Working away from home is a bit of a mixed bag. The downsides are obvious but there are a few pluses too if you try hard enough. My weekly routine now consists of early starts and a long drive to work on a Monday morning, stay in digs until Friday then drive home that afternoon. Four nights away from home to be gainfully filled once the day’s work is over. Four evenings for me to whittle away. It is very quiet out in deepest rural Ireland where I stay through the week, real ‘Deliverance’ country! There is no angling within easy striking distance of me at this time of year when it is dark before 8pm. Knowing that, I chucked some fly tying gear into a big box, dug an old computer table out from the spidery depths of the shed and made a wee fly tying station in my bedroom in Offaly. Here I can unwind after a tough day by making a few flies and dreaming of next season.
My other distraction is to painstakingly review the contents of my fly boxes. Each week I bring one or two with me, intent on clearing out the rubbish and making space for new flies. At the same time I make a list of what should be in the boxes and with any luck I will have the bits and bobs in that big box to make up the missing ones. I am not going to suggest this little scheme is working out perfectly but I am making inroads into the dross and creating some useful flies in their place. This week it was the turn of a small green canvas fly wallet which has not been used for many, many years.
Within the worn emerald green wallet lurks an unholy combination of flies. On one side is a reasonable selection of wet flies in sizes 10 to 14, mostly lough flies but with a sprinkling of river patterns mixed through. Invictas jostle with Bibios, Connemara Blacks are half buried by a line of butchers in a joyous celebration of celtic stalwarts. That is fine, these are pretty much all useful flies which can stay where they are (for now at any rate). It is the other side of the wallet which has me perplexed. You see it is full of my old sea trout flies from my youth in Scotland. While they are smothered in sentimentality I can see little use for them now here in Ireland. You see they are all tied on double hooks.
I have been gone from the North East of Scotland for so long I can’t say if flies tied in this style are even used there any more. Here in Ireland a size 8 single hook is probably the most used fly for migratory trout but in the 1970’s us Aberdonians fished for sea trout with size 14 and 16 double hooked flies. A size 12 was considered too large and a 10 or bigger would lead to cardiac arrest if found on ones leader. The smaller the better was our creed back then and boy did we catch some amount of trout! A dozen in a day was not unusual and I personally got close to twenty on a few occasions. All on tiny double hooks.
I left Aberdeen in my mid-twenties and wandered the globe since, never returning for more than a few days to visit family and friends. The small, badly crushed flies brought me right back there though, back to the crystal rushing water of the Dee and the salty expanses of the Ythan estuary. The years rolled back as I poked and preened these fifty year old treasures and I wondered if they would still work? Let’s take a look at a few of them.
The Cinnamon and Gold was the most popular fly back then and I must have tied many hundreds of this pattern. It’s sister, the Cinnamon and Silver had it’s adherents too and I clearly recall a tide bright four pounder that could not resist the silver bodied version below the Brig o’ Balgownie on the Don early one May morning. Getting my hands on the right shade of hen quills was always a trial and the customers for my flies were quick to tell me if I had made the wings too dull or too orangy.
The Grey Monkey was another dinger of a fly. The original was made with a body of grey fur from (surprise surprise) a monkey. Lacking any shavings from a battleship coloured primate I raided my mother’s collection of wool and found just what I needed there. Teased out and dubbed it made an excellent substitute. Some anglers wanted a turn or two of gold coloured floss silk at the end of the body, others preferred orange fur as a tag so I tied different version to suit all tastes. I’ll admit I grew tired of tying the Monkey, it was so popular I spent endless hours tying just this fly.
Mallochs Favourite, Dunkeld, Peter Ross and Wickham’s Fancy were all good flies too, just as long as they were tied on those wee doubles. Trying to keep a few aside for myself proved to be hard some times but I found that if I made some small change to the basic pattern the ultra conservative Aberdeen fishers would leave them alone. Perhaps this was the start of my lifelong messing with fly dressings which still goes on to this day. My Cinnamon and Copper landed me a few fish but was not a huge success. On the other hand, my Teal winged Dunkeld was utterly lethal and became a firm favorite.
I know I still have a large stock of small double hooks in my fly tying cabinet at home, mainly 16’s but a few 14’s too. One of these nights I might sit and tie up some of the old flies just for old-time sake. Who knows, maybe some Irish patterns might be worth trying on the sharp little hooks that have been sleeping in the cardboard boxes for half a century!
I have decided that the wallet just crushes the delicate wings on normal wet flies and that it is much better suited to nymphs in stead. All the wets have been removed and I will make up new nymphs to replace them. I’m not one for using a huge range of different nymph patterns, being much more interested in owning a range of weights to cope with different depths and flows instead.