We got some snow here over the past few days. Not a lot of snow, maybe an inch or two but enough to make the roads treacherous and to push gas bills into the stratosphere by keeping the heating on all day. It’s February so we should expect some inclement weather I suppose. My problems is still the lockdown and the noises coming out of the Irish government that they will keep level 5 in place into April and maybe even May. Their incompetence knows no bounds! Hundreds dead because they opened the country up too early and now we have to suffer in silence until the summer.
I am making a few flies for Dr. John Connelly today. A wonderful angler and great naturalist, John lives in Pontoon and fishes the loughs around here as often as he can despite his 80 years. One of life’s true gentlemen, I had the pleasure of fishing with him and Derek Woods last year and I promised him then I would make some flies for him. Today seems to be the perfect day for that job.
I started off with my Fiery Brown, just the normal tying but with an added orange hen hackle and jungle cock cheeks.
Then a Katie Bibio which are always a good early season pattern on lough Conn.
A Bumble next, golden olive.
Raymond, that great killer of trout on lough Conn is next.
Green Peter, of course on size 10’s for sedge time.
A teal, Blue and silver in case he is fishing for sea trout…..
Maybe a Yellow Stimulator too, good during the mayfly
I make a few others and chuck in a couple of salmon flies for good measure. John lives right on the shore of Lough Cullin and Conn is well within the dreaded 5km limit of travel so he will be able to get out fishing when he wants. I hope these few flies bring him a trout or two, the good doctor is a great man for winkling a few out!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
As an Interim Manager I lead an odd sort of life. I am either buried in work, often far from home, or I am unemployed and dossing about in Castlebar. The contract I am working on right now falls somewhere in between those states as I am working in Westport, just long the road. I get home every evening and even better, the hours I work mean I finish up at 1pm every Friday. So yesterday afternoon I left the old car in to Mick to get a small job done on it and came home to a warm house and an afternoon off. Bliss! Coffee in hand and Rory Gallagher on the turntable, I settled down at the vice to knock up a few flies.
I know I am going over very well worn territory here with this post but spiders are a major part of my river fly fishing armoury and yesterday I was busy at the vice topping up the early season boxes. While they catch fish at any time it is the first couple of months of the season that I rely on them most. Some are copies of naturals like the Iron Blue or the large dark olive while others are more general patterns. Here is what I was tying.
An old reliable, the P&O
I started out with the good old Partridge and Orange. A size 14 hook, orange Pearsall gossamer silk for the body and a fine gold rib. I like a thorax of a couple of turns of peacock herl and a hackle of brown partridge back feather. Very simple but very, very deadly. I have tried them on bigger and small hooks but nothing is as effective as a 14. I see many anglers waxing lyrical about the partridge and yellow but I have caught very few trout on that pattern. Orange is king in my book.
Then I moved on to Plover and Hares Lug. Yellow silk on 12 or 14 hook, hare’s ear body with either a narrow flat gold tinsel rib or fine oval gold and the hackle made from a golden plover feather. I am almost out of golden plover feathers and they are very hard to find these days.
my black spider
Black spiders now. Fl. orange tying silk and a flat holo black tinsel body with a silver wire rib for protection. A turn of a the small blueish feather from the upper side of a Jackdaw’s wing finishes this one off. The orange silk head gives a nice target for the fish.
olive partridge spider
My olive partridge spider was next on the list. As size 14 again and this time olive tying silk body ribbed with fine gold wire. I make a few variations of this pattern by changing the hackle, it can be a natural brown partridge feather or the same feather dyed different shades of olive. For some reason I seem to normally fish this pattern in the middle of the cast.
Whirling Blue Dun Spider
Whirling blue duns. Maybe not used that often these days but I like when olives are hatching out. Tails and hackle are ginger hen and the body is made for moles fur. I use yellow tying silk on a 14 or 16 hook. I tie then in both spider and winged versions, using starling for the wings.
Pheasant Tail (well sort of)
Pheasant tails. Where do you start with this fly, there are hundreds of variations. I like to use crimson tying silk and the body is made from the ubiquitous cock pheasant tail herls, but dyed yellow. the tail which is made from brown partridge fibres. The hackle is the same feather. One for May evenings……
Iron Blue Dun. Darkest Iron blue hackle and tails, crimson silk dubbed with moles fur on a size 16 or 18 hook. All too often I see Iron Blue Duns tied with hackles which are far too pale. When you see the natural on the water you will realise they are nearly black.
My Ginger Partridge is a handy pattern for searching streamy water. A yellow sik body with a fine gold wire rib on a size 14 hook. There are two hackles, one turn each of a brown partridge back feather with a ginger hen in front.
The blue dun I tie is very simple. Yellow silk on a size 16 hook. Heron herl, either natural or dyed olive for the body with a fine gold wire rib to give the herls some protection. A pale blue dun hen hackle at the neck. Of course you can add blae wings.
Red spider. This is one for summer evenings. Usually a size 14 but strangely I have had success with a size 12 too. Red gossamer silk body with a fine gold wire rib and a red game hen hackle. You can add a lime green butt if you like but to be honest I can say that has proved any more effective.
Partridge and hare. Yellow silk, fine flat gold tinsel to rib a body of dubbed hare’s ear fur. A brown partridge hackle to finish. Not a million miles away from a March Brown pattern but we are not blessed with MB’s here in the west of Ireland. A general nymph like spider that does well early on.
Grey dun. Two versions here, the light and dark. Hackle is the same for both, from the knuckle of a coot’s wing. Body is pale straw coloured tying silk for the light version and black silk for the dark one.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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).
I doubt if there is an Irish wet fly that has spawned more variations than the Green Peter. To be told by an angler he or she has caught a fish on a Green peter really tells you very little as there are so many different dressings. I have to hold my hand up at this point as I am a serial offender when it comes to dodgy peter patterns. My fly boxes are overflowing with all sorts of different takes on the classic original.
The fly I am about to describe has seen a lot of action over the years and is one I fall back on during the early months of the season when the fishing can be tough. The trout seem to take this fly with great confidence though. Early on in the season I usually fish with a sinking line and this is a great fly for any position on a cast at that time.
Use black tying silk and start at the eye then run down a few millimetres, leaving room to tie in wings and head hackle later. Now catch in a red game cock hackle. Run the silk down the shank, tying in a length of fine oval gold tinsel as you do. At the bend dub a small pinch of black seals fur on to the silk and wind a short butt. Now dub some dark green seals fur on the silk and wind a body. Palmer the cock hackle down the body and tie it in with the gold tinsel which you rib through the hackle and tie in at the neck. Remove the waste end of the hackle and the oval tinsel.
I make the wing from a bunch of brown squirrel tail fibres. Tie the hair in on top of the hook and trim off the waste ends. A long fibred black hen hackle is tied in next and given at least 5 turns. I prefer a natural hackle for this fly but a dyed one will do. Form a neat head, whip finish and varnish to complete the fly.
At the vice again this morning with the record player getting a spin to keep my spirits up. Maybe a bit of Nils Lofgren to start with. I should explain that I spent yesterday sorting out the mind-numbing jumble of old vinyl and CDs that littered the spare room and got them into some sort of order. It turned into a bit of a marathon what with over 500 albums to put into the right sleeves/boxes and then store them neatly. I unearthed a Bonnie Rait CD which had been missing for years and a Rory Gallagher album I didn’t even know I had! Anyway, I pop Nils on the turntable and sit down to ties some old patterns for the salmon fly box.
So what will I tie today? Let’s take a look at the Quack, a salmon fly for my local water, Lough Beltra. Can’t say I have caught anything on this pattern but it looks like it should produce a springer in a big south-westerly wind. It is fun to tie regardless so here is how to make this colourful pattern.
For a hook I use a single salmon iron in sizes 4 down to 10. Tying silk is black. Start the silk at the eye and run it down to the bend where a tip of oval silver tinsel and a couple of turns of golden yellow floss silk are tied in. The tail is a Golden Pheasant topping feather with a slip of red (or Indian Crow if you have some) on top. Now you make a butt from ostrich herl or some coarse wool. I tend to leave out the butt and the fish don’t seem to mind. The body is black floss ribbed with silver tinsel and I add a body hackle of black cock palmered the full length of the floss. The throat hackle is a nice bright orange cock hackle. I use one long in fibre to provide movement. the wings on this type of fly are static so I rely on the hackles to give some life.
Make an under wing of tippet strands or on bigger hooks tie in a pair of tippet feathers back-to-back. Married slips of yellow, red and blue swan come next and veiling them is bronze mallard. Jungle cock cheeks and a topping over the wing are added. Now form a neat head and whip finish before colouring the head with black varnish. I think the original had a red head but again, the salmon don’t seem to give two hoots about details like that.
It is nice to tie these old patterns and then give them a swim in the lough. Plenty of very talented fly tyers make beautiful married wing salmon flies but these are usually for show purposes and not for actually fishing with. I use the old flies so they don’t just fade away into show cases but get a wetting occasionally. I don’t think they are any better or any worse at attracting salmon that minimalist modern hairwings.
Enough guitar gymnastics from Mr.Lofgren, it’s time to for go a bit of good old prog rock with some Jethro Tull. ‘Thick as a brick’ will do nicely I think….