the great clearout

I blame the mayfly. In late spring each year anglers flock to the west of Ireland to fish the mayfly hatch and I am out most days acting as Ghillie to some of them. It is massively important to me that my charges enjoy the experience of a day on the lough and so I am always attentive to the small details which make or break a day. Some expert anglers arrive with fly boxes bursting with perfectly tied patterns that put my own to shame but many more are under-gunned so my own patterns are passed around. That’s all well and good but my delight when a fellow angler catches a fish on one of my flies comes at a price – my fly boxes quickly degenerate into utter chaos. By the latter part of June those neat ranks of dabblers and bumbles have morphed into a mess of odd flies and locating the one I want becomes a nightmare. So I struggle on to the end of the season in this state of disorder, then have a tidy up.

It is that time of year again and so as the garden trees bend under the onslaught of yet another autumn gale I am sitting at the dining table with a few thousand flies to sort out. Just to add to the confusion, I’ve been busy at the vice lately, and knowing there was little point in adding the newbies to the messy fly boxes I just tossed them into an old tin. A vice and some materials in my digs down in the midlands mean I relax most workday evenings by whipping up a handful of flies. It is amazing just how that quickly that turns into a few hundred patterns, each looking for a new billet in the boxes. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough I chucked out a load of ancient rainbow trout flies and lures which had seen better days and I am now busy replenishing the stocks of those patterns too.

The well battered wooden fly box which is home to many of my lough flies has long been the repository for any auld wets that were lying around, no matter what they were actually intended for. There were a couple of rows of buzzers for example; useful I’ll grant you but surely they should have a different home? And all those experimental caddis patterns which have never even tried out might be better placed in a dedicated box for new flies. I tidied up the smaller boxes a while back but the main fly box was started but never completed – until now.

Of course I don’t need all of these flies and most will never even be knotted on to the end of a leader, but I love making them and a good few will be given to anglers on my boat so I can justify it to myself on those grounds alone. The enormous quantity of fly tying materials which resides in the fishing room needs to be used up anyway so this winter will see the big clear out gather momentum and the new wave of flies being created to take their place. Even I am astounded by the sheer quantity of fur, feathers and hooks which I have accumulated over the years. Yet I still find myself short of one or two feathers, especially the ones I dye myself. When the Christmas holidays finally roll around I will do some dying again. That deep green olive I like so much for making silver drakes is high on the list as is a bright ginger for my caddis pattern which I’ve run out of. Only this morning my mate gave me a small packet containing a handful of French Partridge feathers dyed a shade of green I can’t say that I have seen before. He told me this used to be deadly on Conn years ago but he can’t find the same colour any more. So that is another one to add to the dying list!

For now, I am just topping up the old reliables but soon I will commence work on the oddities I either already tie or have written down in various notebooks. Traditionals and Octopus in the usual hues are predominating right now with mayfly patterns next on the list. Mostly I have been working on sizes 12 and 14 but I began the job of making the size tens’ the other evening and it felt like I was using meat hooks! Lately I have been back to enjoying my fly tying much mare that in the past. I had grown stale and fallen into the trap of tying the same old flies instead of developing my own patterns like I used to. Making flies had all become a bit mechanical and so that creativity which I enjoy so much had been missing. That dull period appears to have been left behind for now and I’m bursting with new ideas once again.

At this juncture I doubt if I will bother making any more salmon flies. Those boxes are in pretty good order having been virtually unused for a few seasons now. If the 2023 runs of salmon are as poor as this year’s I will leave the silver lads in peace once again. Look, that could all change if there is a strong run of springers but I fear that is unlikely. The local sea trout stocks on the other hand are very slowly recovering and there are gaps in the ranks of my patterns for migratory trout for me to attend to. Of course there is a big cross over between trout, sea trout and salmon flies (think Green Peter or Claret Bumble) but some patterns are more or less sea tout only. It’s lovely to sit down and tie these size 8 and 10 flies that look so well in a box.

All this clearing out means there are casualties, those flies which I no longer feel the need to bring with me or are past their best. Like everything else in the boat, fly boxes get wet and water ingress plays havoc with steel hooks. Minor surface rust does not worry me too much but each close season I cull those flies which exhibit more pernicious corrosion. Close examination also reveals any damage such as blunt points, open gapes or twisted shanks. Better to find those casualties now and not when you have inadvertently tied one on the line next season. Other flies are just worn or damaged and I’ll strip them down to reuse the hooks.

My aim is have well ordered boxes by the start of the next season. All it takes is a broken hackle stem or chewed off rib and the otherwise perfectly good fly is fit only for the bin. There are a few like this in a small box waiting for the razor blade, a sad end for flies which in most cases caught me a fish or two.

While I am busy at the vice I am also working on a book about the flies I use. What on the face of it should be a simple list of dressings turns out to be a complex and time consuming task, but it it well under way so I’ll keep pressing on with it in the hope of publishing sometime late next year. Returning to the workplace sharply reduced the time available to me for writing but with 50,000+ words already written a good chunk of the digital scribbling is already in the bag.


8 thoughts on “the great clearout

  1. I am also anxiously awaiting your book. I have hundreds of flies that need sorting and I too have happily moved out of my slump. Love trying new patterns and tying “variants “.


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