dryfly, Fishing in Ireland

Floss wing mayfly

There is usually a spool of dapping floss lurking somewhere in my bag. I rarely dap but just in case I feel the need or someone else in the boat requires some, a reel of the light brown floss is on hand. As I was tidying up my gear today I unearthed the spool and took a good look at it. It occurred to me the floss might be a suitable material for a dry mayfly so I snipped a piece off and started tying.

Using a Kamasan B170 size 10 hook, I started the 8/0 chartreuse silk near the bend then ran it up to about 4mm from the eye. Here I secured the floss with figure-of-eight turns, creating two wings which I then trimmed to roughly the same length as the hook shank. Now I tied in a chocolate coloured genetic cock hackle. Next, I tied in a bunch of natural brown squirrel tail hair, cutting off the waste and binding it in as I ran the tying silk to the bend of the hook. Here I tied in a length of thick brown silk which would be used as a rib before dubbing the silk with natural seals fur. The body was formed by winding the dubbed silk up to near where the wing were tied in and I ribbed the body with the brown silk, then removed the waste. The hackle was given multiple turns both behind and in front of the wings before tying it off, removing the waste end and forming a neat head with the tying silk. Whip finish and varnish was all that was needed to complete the fly.

The mayfly is nearly over for this year now but I will save this new pattern for next spring. Over the years I have given away almost all of my dry mayflies. A few Wulff’s and my favourite CDC Emergers are just about all that I have left so this coming winter I will make the effort to tie a box full of dries.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

32 – Episode 10, Galway

If I am honest I should have really ticked Galway off right at the very beginning of the ’32’ project as I have caught numerous fish in this county over the years. Sea fishing out of Clifden, mackerel bashing off the rocks in Galway Bay, casting flies for brown trout on the Clare river – the list goes on and on. A fisher could spend his or her life in the county and still not fish all the available waters. Some of the angling greats fished in Galway and wrote extensively of their experiences so there is no shortage of literature to digest if you are researching the area. I used to come to Galway frequently when I lived in Scotland and loved the city (especially the nightlife), the surrounding countryside and the fishing. But for the sake of this project I wanted to catch a fish in the county this year so I made plans to try for some trout on mighty lough Corrib.

Anglers across the globe are familiar with the Corrib, it holds a special draw on fishermen’s imagination. Since the dawn of sport fishing the vast, wild waters of this lough have provided spectacular angling for those lucky enough to cast a line here. For many years I kept a boat on the upper part of the lough and got to know it reasonably well, catching (and losing) some terrific trout in the process. The days spent exploring the bays and islands, the offshore reefs and craggy shorelines were a joy and I learned a lot about my own abilities as well as the ways of the fish. Days of high expectation which came to naught were balanced by exciting sport amid glorious surroundings. Corrib is a special lough which captures your heart.

For those unfamiliar with Corrib let me give you a rough outline of the fishery. With a surface area of over 170 km2 it is the second largest freshwater lough on the island of Ireland (after lough Neagh). It lies to the north of Galway city and a small part of it is in county Mayo. Roughly divided into two parts, the northern basin tends to be deeper and rockier with the south basin shallow and open. The lough is narrow and full of reefs where the two basins join. Islands, large and small dot the lough and I have heard numbers for these island vary between 365 and over a thousand. I guess it all depends on your exact definition of when a reef becomes an island. While brown trout are the principle quarry species the lough is also home to pike, ferox, salmon, perch, bream and roach. Visiting anglers are well catered for by the local boatmen who can be hired from villages around the lough. This is no place for a beginner, you need to know exactly where you can motor and fish, keep a close watch on the weather, know how to handle a boat in all conditions and be prepared for every eventuality. Sadly, lives are lost too often when this lough is not shown the respect it deserves.

In terms of the fishing, the Corrib caters for every taste. Some people troll for large trout and salmon while many others prefer to dap. I much prefer to fly fish despite the knowledge a dapper will out-fish me most days both in terms of the number and the size of trout caught. It is late May and that of course means one thing and one thing only – the mayfly. My plan was simple, fish either wets or dries depending on the hatch, move until I found the fish and to enjoy my days out on the lough. I say ‘days’ as I was fortunate to be sharing a boat with that fine angler, Dr. John Connolly of Pontoon for four days on the Corrib.

John Connelly amid the chaos of our boat. Note the flat calm!

Sometimes I fish with a 6 or even a 5 weight outfit but here in the Corrib you can run into some seriously large fish so I brought along my 7 weight outfit. Wet fly usually catches average sized trout with the dappers picking up bigger fish but even still trout in the 5 to 10 pound range are caught by fly fishers each season so it pays to fish on the heavy side.

No wind. I looked out first thing in the morning, as all anglers do. The trees stood straight and tall, no signs of the slightest movement in their branches. I was not overly concerned though as the wind usually picks up as the day goes on. I had slung a pile of gear into the back of the car the night before so it only remained for me to sort out food and drink for the day. I would be ghillieing John for these 4 days but I hoped to pick up a rod for a while too, depending on how the days panned out. Due to Covid restrictions we met up on the edge of town but traveled separately, two cars in tandem as we drove down the long road to Doorus. Ballinrobe, Clonbur and Cornamona came and went then down the shrub fringed narrow road to the small private harbour where our hire boat was moored.

Doorus is a peninsular which juts out into the upper part of the western side of lough Corrib. It has long been associated with excellent trout fishing, in particular when the mayfly are hatching. Islands, reefs and shallows dot the waters around the peninsular and the whole area is a fishers heaven. Friends had been fishing there the day before and while they had lean pickings they saw the dappers pick up many good trout up to in excess of 5 pounds in weight.

The time honored rituals of loading the mountain of gear into the boat ensued. We met up with Jim and Brian who were also fishing today and we made loose arrangements to meet up at lunchtime. An aggressive swan got a bit too close for comfort as we pulled away from the shore and headed out for our first drift. The westerly wind was fitful and only 30 minutes in to the day that small breeze died completely, leaving us becalmed. Motoring around we hunted for a ripple, however small. This went on for a while until a faint zephyr from the north gradually built up sufficiently to ruffle the surface slightly. It wasn’t much but it was just enough to allow us to fish. John fished a team of wets while I opted for a pair of dries. We were equally unsuccessful for the next two hours. Mayfly were hatching in reasonable numbers but very few trout had shown. Time for a spot of lunch!

L to R: Brian, Jim, Paul and Liam

Pulling into an island we decamped and started to walk over to a table in the trees where two fellow anglers were sitting. A string of profanities greeted me and I recognised Liam and Paul, lads from town. I had not clapped eyes on Liam for years so we had some catching up to do. Firing up my kettle, I was horrified to find I had left my mug at home and had to beg a loan of one from the lads. We spent a while recalling our various fishing experiences and there was the familiar raid on my fly box by the boys. Parting on the shore, we all headed off in different directions. It had been great to see the lads, especially on an island in the middle of the Corrib.

I set us up on one lovely drift after another, ghosting over reefs and pale submerged stones or hugging the edges of tree covered islands. Close to a rocky island shore John lifted into a fish but it turned out to be a lightly hooked 6 incher. Back it went and we resumed the drift. Just enough of a wind was blowing to create a small wave and a trickle of mayflies were still hatching so we had some hope. Fishing with one hand on the oar and flicking out casts with my other hand we tried to cover as much water as possible. Fixed intently on the pair of dries I got a perfect view as a trout head-and-tailed as it inhaled my Yellow Wulff. A delayed strike found purchase and I was in at last. After a good fight which featured a blistering run, I netted a fine trout of about a pound-and-three-quarters. The lads wanted some fish to cook so this one went into the bag. Relief was writ large on my face, the day had been slipping away without me moving a fish until then.

Dried and treated, once more the flies were sent back out again but that was all the sport we had for the day. Given the time of year this was a poor return but conditions had been tough and all the other boats we met had similar catches of just one or two trout.

So I had achieved my goal and landed a fish in Co. Galway. Under the circumstances I suppose I should be happy I caught one but I honestly feel I should have done better. Mayfly were hatching a few trout were moving to them. Ah well, there is always the next time.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, wetfly

To wing or not to wing

I am busy topping up my river fly boxes and it has got me thinking about why I habitually tie wings on some patterns and not on others. Do a couple of slips from a starling really make all that difference to a fly? Do the fish even notice if the neatly paired wings are present? In my humble opinion some fly are better catchers when winged while other it seems will tempt the trout in either winged or hackled versions.

Like most fly tyers I hated wings when I was starting out at the vice. They were so fiddly and no matter how much I tried I could never get them right. Different lengths, lop-sided, too wide or too narrow – the list of problems felt endless and just handling the damn things was torture. So most of my earliest creations were spiders or palmers. Gradually though I became better at handling the tricky little slips and could tied a reasonably good wing. It then became a matter of choice if I applied wings or not. Dry flies in particular vexed me, could the fish even see an upright wing from below I mused? Nowadays I suspect they can as they rarely take a fly from precisely below and at any other angle I think they see something of the wing, be that just a vague outline. Honestly, who knows? None of us will ever really know what a fish sees and all of this is pure conjecture.

I’m sitting surrounded by all my fishing gear and listening to some old progressive rock. So let’s think about which patterns benefit from being winged. This is purely my take on some old favourites but you may wildly disagree. Isn’t that one of the joys of fishing, there really is no right and wrong, we all have our own way of doing things.

Wickhams Fancy (and all its wonderful variants) – A definite ‘winged’ from me. I am convinced this great pattern is better with wings but am still none-the-wiser as to why they take it in the first place.

Greenwells Glory – I use both. I love a Greenwell spider on the river during the early months of the year. I also use a Greenwell with woodcock wings and a yellow floss tail on stillwaters where it does great execution.

A simple Greenwell spider
Another winged variant, the Greenwell Quill. Another one I like to put wings on.

Black spider vs black Gnat. I prefer a Black Gnat to a Black Spider but please don’t ask me to justify this point of view, it is just something that has grown with me over the years. I still use various black spiders but the gnat with a silver tip is a topper of a fly in my book.

Olive dun / Blue dun / Ginger quill – all winged most of the time. I suspect these patterns are taken for winged duns and as such I like to wing them. I tie blue dun spiders too though just to add confusion!

Blue Dun
Olive Dun with wings

March Brown – Agh, I have to say I changed tune on this one. I used to prefer the winged one back in Scotland. We used to get hatches of the natural on the Aberdeenshire Don so a size 12 winged MB was a good fly. Here in Ireland we don’t get a hatch on March Browns so the spider version does fine and I am guessing it is taken as a LDO nymph.

Iron Blue – both winged and spider. The hackled lad for early in the day and a change to the winged version if/when the duns start to hatch. I have fished like that since I was a lad and it has caught me a lot of trout over the decades.

A winged Iron Blue. This is a big one on a size 16 hook.
A hackled version.

Yellow May Dun – Always winged for me

Adams – Sometimes I don’t bother with wings on my Adams dry flies and they catch me loads of trout. But I always carry a few Adams sporting grey poly wings and I love these during a hatch of olives.

Poly wing dry Adams

Of course I frequently fish both winged and spider flies on the same cast when fishing wets. This covers all the bases. Indeed, I sometimes fish a beaded fly on the tail, a hackled pattern in the middle and a winged fly on the bob. That is a nice set up for searching the water when there is no signs of life.

So how do I sum up all of the above? There is no sane reason for deciding which of my river flies are better with wings, it has just grown organically over the years. I have found a black gnat to be a better fly than the black spider but I have no idea why that should be. By now I suspect that confidence in a pattern may be an important factor. Whatever you have most faith in personally will usually be the best bet.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, trout fishing

Green tinsel

I was given a fly the other day by a highly experienced local angler who has had some success with it on Carrowmore Lake. It is predominantly black and dressed in bumble style but the thing that caught my eye was the body material – green tinsel. For years I have found this colour of tinsel to be an excellent attractor of both trout and salmon.

My infatuation with green tinsels started a long, long time ago when, as a young lad I bought a book called ‘Clyde style flies and how to dress them’. This slim volume contained some great patterns but the main emphasis of the book was on the design of the flies and how to keep the dressings to a minimum on small hooks. Back in those days the smallest hook I could buy was a size 16 and I tied up lots of the patterns from the book on Mustads. The big attractions for me was the simplicity of the patterns and the readily available materials they required.

One of the flies which I tied was a thing called the Murray’s Blue bottle spider. There were a few variations of the bluebottle. They all had a small black hackle but the body could be made out of either blue or green lurex. There was even another variant which sported a couple of turns of pink lurex as a butt. In use, the blue bodied one did not catch me very much at all but the green one was a sure fire killer on the Don on summer evenings before the rise got going.

Not much left of this 50 year old lurex!

The big drawback with the small Murray’s spiders was the lurex itself. While it was very shiny it was also extremely delicate and rarely lasted beyond the first take. I spent so many frustrating evenings cutting off one damaged spider to replace it with a fresh one, only for it to be destroyed in short order by the next fish. I tried covering the lurex with varnish and this helped a little but the fly was inherently weak. These days I’d use epoxy to coat the lurex but back in the day varnish was all that was available.

I never found the blue lurex to be as effective as the green

A tiny dry version of the blue bottle spider is an effective pattern but I suspect it entices smaller trout ahead of their larger brethren. I can’t recall landing any big brownies on a dry Bluebottle but it used to catch me loads of small fellas.

Fast forward to a more modern era and the arrival of mylar as a tinsel. Much stronger than the outdated lurex, mylar also comes in a nice green colour.  Of course nowadays there are a profusion of different types of tinsel-like materials to pick from in just about any colour you can imagine but I like Mylar and use it for most of my tinsel bodied flies. We fly tiers get used to handling certain materials, become more dexterous with them in use and better able to judge just the right amount of tension we can apply.

A stoat’s tail with a green mylar body is a capital fly for grilse in pretty much any conditions. I rib the green body with oval silver tinsel to add some more flash and to protect the mylar a bit. I fish this fly fast, darting it across the lies so the fish don’t get too long to look at it. In the past I used to add a layer of pearl over the green which makes for a very pretty fly but I can’t in all honesty say this made the fly any more deadly.

I have tied  green shrimp pattern for the summer grilse fishing but it has yet to be tried so this one comes with no recommendations (yet). The silver tag and a wound GP body feather as a tail are standard. The body is in two halves, the rear being green tinsel ribbed with silver and front is red fur or silk, also ribbed with silver. A doubled badger cock hackle is wound at the joint of the body and another one at the head. You could add a couple of Jungle Cock eyes too if you feel the need.

it looks like it should catch fish!

So there you have it, green tinsel is a great addition to trout and salmon flies. In a world of increasingly complex patterns and ever more exotic synthetic materials the humble coloured tinsel can still be relied upon to give some action. Give it a try!

pools on an west coast spate river, ideal water for these flies

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

A sedge for Lough Mask

I recently tied up a small dry sedge pattern for one of the lads. Think this is one of the late Rod Tye’s patterns. It looks good and I will make a few for my own fly box too.

The fly has deer hair wings and tails with a black fur abdomen. Rib is red wire and the thorax is red fur with a bit of flash through it. Body hackle is short fibred black cock and a red game cock is wound over the thorax. All of this is on a size 12 hook.

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dryfly, trout fishing, wetfly

Memory lane

So, the flying visit to Scotland is over and I am back in Ireland once again. The catch up with family and friends now over, I can reflect on the last couple of days. The weather was pretty terrible on the journey north but the East of Scotland basked in lovely near summer conditions for the rest of the weekend. Aberdeen looked well in the sunshine, its granite sparkling for a change (it can look very dull on a cold, grey day). Saturday was spent in the relaxing company of family but on Sunday I found myself in Inverurie.

As a boy I learned a lot of my angling skills on the borough waters here on the rivers Don and Urie. A lifetime has passed since those far of days and the town of Inverurie has changed out of all recognition. The once sleepy country village has now become a bustling commuter town for Aberdeen, replete with the usual trappings of the change in status such as industrial parks and shopping centres.

Shallow water above the bridge

Lunch in a garden centre restaurant over, I drove down to the Urie to see how the river has fared in the intervening years. Back in the day I would catch the first country bus from the city every Saturday morning to Inverurie. Dropped off on the main street, clad in waders and smelly fishing coat, I’d wait for the tackle shop to open so I could buy a permit. A few shillings changed hands and I would march off back down the main street, bound for the Urie. I almost always followed the same plan, start on the Urie and fish down the where it meets the Don, hopefully just as the main hatch got under way. I’d then fish the dry fly and work my way upstream on the Don. Slinging small spinners under overhanging trees and bushes. Eyes glued to the red tip of a float, a worm in contortions three feet below. Learning to cast a fly, learning to choose the right pattern, learning to wade without slithering on the weeds and going over the top of my boots. Warm coke and dry sandwiches for lunch.

The bridge pool on the Urie

Tackle back then consisted of a nine-and-a-half foot glass fly rod, a short spinning rod and a bag full of everything from a tin of worms to tiny dry flies. Early in the morning I’d fish the pools and runs with spiders, casting ‘around the clock’. On days when that didn’t work the tin of worms came out and I would search the deeper pools. I was never much of a bait fisherman and the eels which were so common back then seemed to be my usual catch as I recall. I never had enough worms with me. The tiny square of poor earth which passed for a garden at the back of our council house yielded only a handful of tiny wrigglers that I dug between the scrawny lettuces. Often I was reduced to turning over stones on the river bank to augment the contents of the bait tin during the fishing.

If my bait ran out I’d turn to spinning tiny Mepps or metal minnows but even at a young age I realised this was too easy. Flicked upstream and wound back over the fish’s heads, these lures virtually always caught me a trout or two.

an old box of tiny spinners dating from my youth

My selective memory lulls me into believing there was always a hatch around lunchtime. I’m sure there must have been days when the empherids didn’t appear but that is beyond my recall. The bridge pool was my favourite spot on the Urie and I have many happy memories of exciting times casting to rising trout as the olives and iron blues hatched out in April and May.

I parked beside the graveyard on Sunday. Already I could see the changes with more human interventions on the side of the road than there used to be. New houses and businesses were there and an ominous sign which said something about no access. I ignored it of course. Walking up to the bridge over the river was a strange experience, the years weighing heavily on me. Over the parapet I peered and there below was the river, wider than I had remembered it and very low for the time of year. It looked decidedly fishy, running clear over still lush, verdant weeds and brown olive gravel. I was instantly transported back to a more innocent time, a time when feeling the tug of a half-pounder was all I lived for. A time when the very idea of being anywhere other than here in the North East was simply impossible to comprehend. An altogether simpler time.

The golds and reds of the autumn leaves reflected the waning years of my own life. Growth and vigour have been replaced with introspection and reflection. I (hopefully) reach 60 next spring, battle scarred and weather worn. Lessons learned but still largely clueless about this world which seems hell bent on self-destruction. Fishing, the common thread woven through the very fabric of my existence, kept me sane through the dark days and nourished my soul in ways no religion ever could. I hold places like the bridge pool on the Urie very dear.

I never did catch any monsters from the bridge pool, a few pounders sprinkled among a host of lesser fish was my lot. That didn’t matter to me back then because it was a consistent spot. If I was going to catch a fish anywhere on that river the chances were it would come out of that pool. These days I would fish it in the gloaming of a late spring evening when the spinners return to lay their eggs and the better trout come out of hiding to feed, but back then the last bus home would have long departed by then! My love of motorbikes which freed me from the bonds of the bus timetable unfortunately coincided with my burgeoning attraction to the opposite sex and so the banks of the Urie were swapped for the bright lights and blandishments of the city. I could have become an expert fisher instead of a mediocre Lothario. Ah well………………..

I snapped a couple of photos then took my leave. Maybe next year I might come back with a feather-light carbon wand and spend an hour casting on this nice piece of water for old-time sake. More likely, I will spend far too much money on a beat of the Dee chasing elusive salmon and catch nothing! It was a relief to see my old haunt was not yet succumbed to the relentless march of progress just yet. Who knows what the next few years will hold though?

The path along the bank is a new feature, it was a lot more overgrown in my youth

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Leaders

Let’s talk about leaders. When I started fishing the fly for trout this was pretty damn straight forward – you tied an overhand knot on the end of the fly line and looped a 9 foot length of 4 pound breaking strain nylon on to it. Life in general has evolved in a variety of complex ways since those days but leaders have exploded into a mind-bending number of different forms. In contrast, my fishing tends to be very simple so my leaders are similarly easy to construct. I thought you might like to see how I tie up leaders for the various different conditions over here in the far west of Ireland. Bear in mind we only have wild brown trout, a very small population of sea trout and a few Atlantic salmon to target. I will split this information into 4 sections to cover the vast majority of my fly fishing needs.

Maxima, good, honest line at a reasonable price

Trout (lough)

I will start with my my basic leader for wet fly on the lough. Lots of lough anglers, and certainly most of the completion lads, have long ago switched from nylon to fluorocarbon for leader material. The main benefit is the increase in breaking strain for the same diameter and for this reason alone I like to use fluorocarbon for my trout leaders when chasing brownies.

My typical lough style leader will consist of a heavy nylon butt, some 12 inches long, made from 15 pound nylon and attached to a small loop in the end of the fly line with a loop. Blood knotted on to the butt will be another foot of ten pound breaking strain nylon. That couple of feet of heavy nylon stays there and I change the leader itself by blood knotting on new lengths of fluorocarbon, usually 9.5 pound breaking strain Riverge. I make my droppers by cutting the fluorocarbon and then re-joining it using a double blood knot, leaving a long tag end which forms the dropper. I like to have my droppers around 6 inches long. When a leader gets damaged or the droppers become too short I snip off the whole fluorocarbon part and replace it with a new leader.

I am too lazy to make up specific leaders for the dry fly when I am on the boat, I just use a wet fly leader and tie on a pair of dries.

Flay calm – testing times for any type of leader!

Trout (river)

On the river I use a wide range of different set ups. As for the lough set up, my basic principle is to have a heavy butt attached to the end of the fly line with a ‘sacrificial’ length of lower diameter which I cut into each time I change the leader. This saves me messing around with the heavy butt section too often. I have been experimenting with tapered butts for a long time now and while I find them useful for sinking lines for salmon I am less impressed with them on floaters for trout fishing. I have also tried some of the specialist nymphing tapered leaders but I find them too soft for my own preference.

The same butt set up as I use for the loughs (see above) works fine for me, maybe just a few inches shorter is better when I am fishing on small streams or at close quarters. That butt section stays attached to the fly line all the time.

  1. Wet fly leader: six feet of 4 pound nylon with three feet of three pound nylon as a tippet. Droppers made by using the tag ends of double blood knots.
  2. Dry fly: Due to the generally higher air resistance I use six pound nylon for the main body of the leader and blood knot on a tippet of fluorocarbon. Breaking strain will depend on where I am fishing and the likely size of any trout there.
  3. Night time leader: The only leaders I carry which are made up before I go fishing are a couple of heavy (6 pound breaking strain) leaders armed with one dropper. I even have the flies tied on so I don’t have to do this in the dark. These leaders are for summer nights when the fish are chasing sedges. It is just too hard to make up a leader from scratch in the dark so I do this beforehand then simply snip off the old leader and knot the heavy one on.
  4. Nymphing set up: Once again, I like to keep this as simple as possible. I don’t need to use excessively heavy nymphs as I don’t fish very deep and fast water. My main aim is to provide enough thickness and therefore stiffness in the leader to turn over the nymphs on short lines. I resort to straight lengths of fifteen pound fluorocarbon as this gives me the power I require. To step down to the tippet I use about 18 inches of that Riverge 9.5 pound which is always lurking in the dark recesses of my waistcoat pocket. Sounds way too heavy for hooking up with half pound trout? Yes and no would be my answer. You see the bottom of my local rivers are stony and snaggy and hooking the bottom happens far more often than hooking fish, so I have a bit of leeway when I need to pull and tug at the line to retrieve snagged flies.

Salmon (lough)

Things change for me when I make up leaders deliberately for salmon on Beltra. We generally use largish flies on this lough and getting 3 meat hooks to cast properly in a high wind from a drifting boat means a switch back to nylon. I like something in or around 20 pound breaking strain and keep the leader to a maximum total length of 9 feet. I don’t think that salmon are line shy in four foot high waves.

Climax 98 - I use this for making up salmon leaders

Climax 98 – I use this for making up salmon leaders

On waters like Carrowmore lake where we fish much smaller flies and only in light winds I simply use the same leaders that I tie up for trout fishing from 9.5 pound breaking strain Grand Max Revenge.

one that went back

safely in the net, the leader did its job this time

Salmon (river)

On big rivers I stick to only one fly and the big question is do I use a straight through length of nylon about 9 feet long or do I add a sinking butt section. The decision will be based on water speed and depth and I usually carry a couple of sinking butts in a pocket with me when I am on a big river.

sinking tapered poly leaders

sinking tapered poly leaders fished out of my jacket pocket!

On smaller rivers and during grilse time I am perfectly happy with a 9 foot length of 10 pound breaking strain nylon loop-to-looped to the end of the fly line. It doesn’t get more simple than that yet it has worked for me my whole angling life so I ain’t about to change any time soon. I add a dropper when the grilse are around so I can fish a tiny wee fly as well as a ‘normal’ size 8 – 12 on the tail. I space the dropper about three feet up from the tail fly.

spools of drennan

Now let’s turn to the vexed question of which brands to use. Over the years I have had pretty much every line let me down at some point. The early fluorocarbons were prone to snapping under even quite low strains if the load was applied suddenly. Thankfully this seems to have been ironed out but I still find that a good nylon is more forgiving and able to soak up more abrasion than more modern materials. So I carry both types of line with me in various breaking strains and diameters.

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

The market is flooded with different lines, each claiming to be better than the rival products as they are thinner/stronger/invisible to the fish. I guess you will have to make up your own minds about which to use. At the cheaper end of the market there may be some dodgy materials so I don’t mind spending money on the lines which I have experience of. Riverge is good in my opinion and I’ve used it for a good many season now. I have also used Frog Hair for years without complaint. Drennan sub-surface green has been a stalwart nylon for me too.

Frog hair

A quick word on attaching the leader to the fly line. I don’t know about you but this task used to create all manner of problems for me. I never took to braided butts which you slid over the line and were supposed to cling in place on their own. Dabbing superglue on these joints just made them stiff as pokers and I have seen them fail on a couple of occasions. I still have some older fly lines which I turned the end back on itself and whipped it into a small loop. That has worked fine for me over the years. Many modern fly lines are supplied with neat welded loops on the end, making the whole process of attaching the leader so much simpler.

 

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, trout fishing

What’s wrong on the Robe?

Mid-May, the height of the trout season in Mayo. The weather forecast was good and I was really really looking forward to a few hours on the River Robe. The fishing can be challenging in low, clear water but fly life should be plentiful. I double checked my dry fly boxes to make sure I had all the bases covered.

The bridge over the Robe at Crossboyne

I had deliberately picked the stretch of the river around Crossboyne for two reasons. Firstly, the river there holds some very big trout. Secondly, the fly life is usually very reliable. I figured this was a winning combination, the rest was going to be up to my (dubious) skills with rod and line.

For the first time this year I ditched the neoprene waders and plumped for the lightweight chesties instead. I have had these boots for a while  but never worn them so I was was anticipating a more comfortable day. Pulling them on as I perched on the car, I felt far from comfortable. The feet were too tight but I thought they would slacken off once they had been broken in a bit by some walking and wading. Turns out I was wrong about that!

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wind ruffled surface

The bridge pool at Crossboyne looks inviting but I have never had a big fish out of it until late in the evenings. This morning all was quiet on the glass-like surface of this pretty pool. The trees downstream shielded the pool from a gusty south westerly, the only quiet spot on the river today! I waded across the tail of the pool and scrambled up the slippery bank. Once out of the trees the full force of the wind caught me unawares. Ducking back into the vegetation, I commenced operations with a small dry olive. Flicking it up and under the branches was tricky and the small olive sadly stuck on a leafy branch where it remained when the tippet snapped under pressure from me. This small tragedy was repeated often as fly after fly fell victim to my casting deficiencies. The trout were willing to grab the small flies if I could keep them on the surface on short drifts in tumbling water. The only problem was these were all small fish, only a few inches long.

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Trees everywhere! The last resting place for some more of my dries

Leaving the trees behind me I meandered down the edges of the fields, fishing the likely spots near structures and weedbeds. I could make out no signs of a hatch which was very odd. This is a fertile part of the river and upwinged flies usually litter the surface at this time of the year. With no hatch to tempt them up,  the trout were reluctant to show near the top. I had made up my mind that I would stick with dries today, so pushing thoughts of heavily weighted nymphs to the back of my mind I fished on amid a strengthening and variable wind.

5 fish came to hand today but they were all of this stamp

Open fields, dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, bordered the river now. The big drain was in sight (the natural end to this stretch) but a nasty new electric fence barred any further progress. With no flies and a difficult wind I decided to turn back and head for the fast pool above the bridge.

The calf followed me around for a while until mum came to fetch him!

Another trout took the dry spider I had floated over him and it turned out he would be the last one of the day. I picked up the remains of a beautiful spotted blue egg which caught my eye. It may have been left over from a successful hatching but it’s more likely that the egg was robbed by the crows.

Re-crossing the river I ducked under the bridge, getting a soaking from the mains water pipe which is leaking badly from a joint. The lively pool immediately above the bridge is home to some fine trout but once again there was no sign of life. By now I had taken enough disappointment so I called it a day and returned to the car. The lack of insect life is a huge problem, one that does not bode well for the future. I have been blaming the cold weather this spring for the poor (non-existent) hatches but maybe there are more sinister reasons. The use of pesticides in Ireland is endemic. Farmers and other land owners habitually spray pesticides and herbicides in huge quantities. Perhaps this is part of the problem?

Lovely water, pity there were no insects hatching

I will give the Robe a rest now until next month when (hopefully) the evening falls of spinners will liven up the fishing.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

Sanctuary

Of all the many things I dislike in this world, sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s surgery is right up there near the top of the list. It was my misfortune to find myself in just such a hell-hole yesterday through no fault of my own. My new employer required me to have a medical check up to give them some peace of mind that I would not keel over in the workplace, so the beautiful sunny morning was spent in close confinement with a number of sick people. I entered the cramped room perfectly healthy but left after a couple of hours with my immune system battling every sort of air-borne infection.

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At least I had time to ponder where I could cast a line over the weekend and I settled on another trip to the River Robe this coming Sunday. Between the frequent coughs and sneezes of my fellow sufferers I day dreamed about which stretch to fish and what patterns to try. It must have been the medical surroundings, but I decided that a wee fly called the Sanctuary could be the job on the Sabbath as it often works at this time of the year.

Not a fly that I see other anglers using but one which has done the business for me more than once. The Sanctuary is a simple fly to tie. It is not substantially different from a number of other patterns which you can use to imitate the large dark olive but I like catching trout on different patterns.

I think I’m right in saying this pattern was devised by a certain Dr. Sanctuary (hence the medical connection). He fished the chalk streams of east Yorkshire in the late 19th century and was an avid fly tyer.

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The Costa Beck in the east riding of Yorkshire – it looks very similar to the Robe!

As usual, I have mucked around with the original pattern! The good doctor saw fit to omit tails from his fly but I like tail fibres on my dry flies so some were duly added. To my eyes the Coch-y-bondhu hackle was too dark on its own so I wind an olive hackle through it.

  • Hook: your choice of dry fly hook, size 14 works best for me
  • Tying silk: 8/0 or, if you want to more traditional, use Pearsils in brown
  • Tails: A few stiff fibres of dark ginger cock hackle
  • Rib: fine flat gold tinsel
  • Body: dubbed with fur from a hares ear
  • Hackles: a Coch-y-bondhu cock hackle with a couple of turns of olive cock wound through it

The coughing and spluttering of my near neighbours seemed to be reaching a devilish crescendo and my mind wandered of down different paths in an effort to blot out the horror of being confined amid all this disease. It took me all the way back to the eighties and that brilliant track by the Cult – She sells sanctuary.

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dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

Fathach glas (Green giant)

The fly I am writing about today is not especially unique. Indeed, many of you reading this post possibly have one or two similar patterns in your box of dry mayflys. What singles this one out is one thing only – it’s SIZE. Let me transport you back in time to the crystal clear waters of Lough Carra, many seasons ago……..

Drifting gently down the shoreline one May afternoon we came across some fish feeding on hatching mayfly. ‘We’ consisted of Ben, my usual boat partner and myself. It had been a slow morning for us with little in the way of action but it was a lovely day to be out and about on the water. A spring day on Carra is always good for the soul. The sprinkling of fly which had started to appear raised our hopes for sport and I swapped the cast of wets for a solitary dry (I forget the pattern). A trout rose followed by another, then another. Tensions rose perceptibly as the trout grew more confident and broke the surface to grab the poor fly as the hatched. Here we were, in every fly fisher’s dream.

Mayfly

As we drifted I covered first one, then a second fish but without response from either. Change the fly! The hatch can end very quickly or the trout get spooked and go down, so if the fly is ignored after a couple of fish have seen it I tend to change the fly rather than persevere. The day had metamorphosed from lazily drifting and stroking the top of the water with calm, ill-defined casting to one of high tension and focussed thinking. Were the fish hitting emergers or duns on the surface? Would we be better to set up on a drift closer to the reeds? Wulff or Fan-wing? Is that leader long enough? Maybe I should add a new tippet? To a non-fisher the detail we fly fishers consider must seem like a form of self-inflicted mental torture but the unravelling of the complexities of a day’s fishing are fundamental to our enjoyment of the sport. I tied on a dry version of a Lough Arrow but it was ignored. So was a Royal Wulff and a Yellow Fan-wing. And still the trout rose, some in a steady, no nonsense roll over the fly. Others, probably small trout, splashing violently as they engulfed the naturals. I was beginning to struggle and the pressure that we all apply inwardly when surrounded by rising trout grew exponentially with each natural rise within casting range.

Why I decided to tie on the Green Wulff is not very clear in my memory. It was not the most obvious choice as I had tied a couple up with Lough Mask in mind and in particular for use on a windy day. Yet here I was fishing a smallish ripple on Carra and yet the green monster called out to me. Like a football manager deep in the second half with the desperate need to find a goal I reached out to the biggest lad on the bench. My equivalent of a six-foot-five-inch centre forward was a humungous Green Wulff. Tied on a size 6 longshank and sprouting squirrel hair wings and tails that made it look even bigger. This was an Fathach Glas – a green giant!

‘What are you trying next?’ asked Ben. I paused before answering, trying to judge if he will be mildly amused or simply turn the boat around and head for the nearest mental asylum where I could be incarcerated for my own safety. ‘Green Wulff’. ‘A big one’. He glanced in my direction then did a double take when the size of my latest offering became obvious. Now Ben has seen a lot on these Irish loughs so nothing much fazes him. ‘Worth a lash’ was all he said but I could tell he was trying to grasp my reasoning for trying this oddball.

I made the first cast, or rather I tried to make the first cast with the Wulff. Damn you physics! The air resistance of big dries can be difficult to overcome and huge hairy Wulffs are right up there among the most awkward flies to present. It took me a few minutes of flailing to find my timing and alter the loop sufficiently to project the fly about 15 yards out in front of me. That would have to do for now. I was feeling a tad self-conscious about this now, a mad yoke of a fly and obvious difficulty casting it out. And now it was sitting on the surface it looked even bigger! It dwarfed the naturals around it and looked absolutely nothing like the creatures I was trying to imitate. Maybe I should change back to something more normal.

Then, in one of those sublime moments which you never forget, it happened. I saw the whole thing clearly and even now, all these years later the picture is fresh and vivid in my mind. The trout broke the surface perhaps a couple of inches abaft the Wulff and opened his mouth to engulf it as he turned down again. My timing was exquisite, the duration of pause perfect for once and the line tightened as the hook found lodgement in his scissors. All of this happened because I was in shock at the sight of the take. I could hardly believe a modestly sized trout had swallowed the enormous fly. After boating the trout I checked the fly and it was undamaged but sodden. Drying it proved to be the next challenge as it had shipped a lot of water and took plenty of blotting and blowing to get it dry enough for a re-application of floatant. More unsightly whipping and hauling finally landed the fly in front of the boat again and I settled back to digest what had just happened.

Not even a couple of minutes had passed when the whole process repeated itself and a second trout was plunging to the depths of the lough with the Wulff firmly attached. By the time the rise was over I had taken five decent trout, all on the green giant. I missed some others but in general the takes were very confident and the hook holds very good. In my limited experience this is very unusual when fishing large mayflys on the surface – lots of splashy rises, misconnections and poor hook-holds seem to be commonplace when using big dries.

Word spread like wildfire and everyone I bumped into seemed to know that I had had a good day on Carra with some sort of green dry fly. I tied up some more and handed them around the fishers who were interested. Amazed laughter was the normal reaction and I could see that most of the lads were not going to embarrass themselves by trying out this ungainly monster. Those that did were just as pleasantly surprised as I was that fine day on Lough Carra. For those of you who make your own flies here is the dressing:

Hook: size 6 long-shank (if you really can’t face the embarrasment of using something this big then an 8 long shank works too)

Tying silk: yellow or olive 6/0 – it needs to be strong for tightly binding the slippery squirrel hair

Tail and spent wings: grey squirrel tail hair dyed bright green. The wings are tied semi-spent. Watch out for tying the wings too long (an easy mistake to make with a long shank hook). Make them barely the same length as the body of the fly and not the length of the hook. If you make the wings too long it makes the finished fly all but impossible to cast.

Green squirrel hair is easily available, Veniards is good though

Body: mix of 50% green seal’s fur and 50% hare’s body fur dyed olive. Taper the body so that it thickens at the thorax

Rib: oval gold tinsel or clear nylon (the original used the tinsel but I think the nylon looks better)

Hackle: Grizzle cock dyed bright green. I clip the fibres underneath so the fly can sit in the surface film.

A good few of the locals around Mayo have one of these beauties in their fly box, and yes, they have caught trout on them too! I have heard it has been the downfall of fish on Mask and Corrib as well as Carra. I carry a couple around with me just in case, one fine May afternoon when the greendrakes are on the surface, history will repeat itself.

I start the tying silk at the bend so that there is a layer of silk along the shank

The hair for the wings is tied in over the eye then split with figure-of-eight turns to form a pair of semi-spent wings

Form the tail from a bunch of green dyed squirrel too

cut the waste ends in steps to give a smooth body shape

body dubbed and wound, then ribbed with nylon

Green dyed grizzle

Hackle wound and head formed. just a drop of varnish on the head now to finish the giant off

 

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