Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Repurposing

€5. A fiver. That’s all I spent to buy a box of old flies and lures on fleabay. There were some  photos to accompany the listing and staring at it I homed in on one fly in particular. It was tied with feather which are rarely available these days. The blue elver fly is a pattern now difficult to make as the Vulturine Guinea Fowl which supplies the feathers is a very rare bird, so when I saw this one in the corner of a box in the photos I placed a bid. All I really wanted was that one fly, anything else that I could salvage would be a bonus. Although a little bit of the electric blue barbs were missing from the wing feathers the elver was in good shape and it will be given a swim on Carrowmore next season. Who knows, it could be a good fly for the sea trout on Beltra?

Blue Elver a la Arthur Ransome

When the package arrived it turned out to contain no fewer than 6 metal tins, one full of old baits and the other five all filled to the brim with flies. I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but rummaging through forgotten fishing tackle is a great pleasure to me. Finding old fly patterns, using ancient baits after they have been cleaned up and simply handling gear which was once used on famous beats or lonely lochs off the beaten track gives me a lovely feeling of connection with the past. Now the fun could start!

First up was the biggest tin which contained old baits. Now most of them were junk, badly damaged or rusty beyond redemption. However there was an ABU Tylo which could be cleaned up and used again (18 gram, Zebra coloured). There were 4 thin plastic sandeels which I will try out next summer when the mackerel are shoaling in the bay. A pair of Mepps with plastic fish were given a swift clean up and deposited in my box of Pike baits. A small wooden plug, two wooden devons and a big silver wobbling spoon were thrown into my big plastic box marked up ‘REPAIRS’ to be dealt with later. Then there were a pair of enormous spoons, chromed on one side only. I’ve never seen metal spoons this size before and they appear to have been handmade. No swivels or hooks adorned these giants and I really don’t know what use they would have. For now they have been put aside. I’m toying with the idea of painting the concave faces and trying them for pike. Bloody BIG pike! The rest of the contents of the large tin went in the bin.

Next I opened a battered old flat metal fly box which was lined with cork. First impressions were none too positive, there seemed to be nothing exciting inside. But some poking around the 50 or so old patterns in there revealed a handful of hidden gems.

the pair of Green Highlanders

There was a pair of huge Green Highlanders tied with yellow bucktail wings. I wonder which pools this was fished through all those years ago? Flies this size might have seen action in the deep flowing waters of the river Tay or maybe the rock-girt runs on the river Awe. Like most the flies in the boxes these Highlanders were not going to be useful for actual fishing anymore. The colours had faded with the throat hackles in particular showing signs of age.

Hairwing Green Highlander

 

A salmon March Brown. Nice hook.

A big March Brown was in remarkably good condition but the hackle was well worn and was now too short in fibre. Not a pattern I would have any faith in, I plan to salvage the large, bronzed up-eyed single hook. The mottled grey turkey wings can be cut off and used on a Grey Murrough.

looks like this was a Jock Scott once-upon-a-time

Some of the flies were chewed to bits, either by fish or moths! There were broken bends and dulled points aplenty but some of the hooks could be reused once the old dressing had been removed.

One for the bin…………..

Another large fly was lurking in the flat box, it had once been a Beauly Snow Fly, something you don’t a lot of in these days of modern tubes and articulated shanks. Not many patterns boast a blue body. Sadly this example was beyond repair so I took a photograph before wielding the scalpel to free up the big old iron.

A large Beauly Snow fly

Next up was a river Dee favourite of yesteryear, the Akroyd. The simple strip wing made of cinnamon turkey tail and the downward pointing Jungle cock made this fly easy to identify.

An Akroyd tied on a gut-eyed hook. I’ll salvage the Jungle Cock and maybe the cinnamon wings too.

The next two tins I opened up contained tube flies. Some were well tied examples of standard patterns but there were a lot of homemade efforts mixed in with them. On the plus side, many of the tubes were adorned with Jungle Cock cheeks. Some were a bit tatty but still useful after a bit of trimming here and there.

I got some Veniard ‘slipstream’ tubes out of this lot, the plastic ones with the hidden hook connection point on the end. They are on the long side but I will tie up some flies on them. There was a lot of good hair which I salvaged too, using it to make a variety of salmon patterns. Then there was the embossed tinsel which had been used as a rib on some of the tubes. I carefully unwound this and then used it to make some Delphi’s. I’ve never landed a salmon on a Delphi but it works well for sea trout around here.

A quick rub up with a cloth and the old embossed tinsel was as good as new

and used to tie a Delphi on a salvaged size 8 double hook

A triple hook ‘demon’ type arrangement had been residing in one of the round tins. Three size 10’s, the one on the tail an eyeless double, were joined withe stiff wire. Gold metal tinsel bodies on all three hooks was actually in really good condition so I kept the dressed bodies and clipped off the orange cock hackle wing. I was reminded of a dressing I had seen years ago so I unearthed my old Tom Stewart books and found the fly I was after, something called a ‘Mary Ann’. I made a small change to the pattern in Tom’s book and swapped out the red cheeks for a pair of salvaged Jungle Cock. I’m quite chuffed with the result!

old triple hook fly

 

Two more old tobacco tins remained. More dodgy old flies were in residence inside them, again a mixture of trout and salmon patterns from long ago. I recognised many of them but some had me baffled.

A simple hairwing tied on an offset bait hook!

useless tubes, but look at the Jungle Cock!

Articulated salmon fly

the hinge looks a bit rusty

some palmers dressed on size 10 sneck hooks

Half-a-dozen nicely tied palmers caught my eye and I plan to try them next season. They are tied on wonderful sneck hooks! I can see them working on a windy day on the lough, ploughing through the waves leaving a tempting wake for the trout to see.

a well chewed Mosley style dry mayfly

Judging by the range of patterns I suspect the previous owner had a long angling career and he or she fished mainly on big Scottish rivers. The predominance of feather winged flies leads me to suspect they date from the 1950’s, around the time that tube flies and hair wings started to appear. They (or someone close to them) also tied flies as many of the patterns were non-standard and some were roughly tied. The trout patterns suggested he/she also fished on Scottish lochs too. In amongst the bigger flies there were a sprinkling of tiny doubles, size 16 and smaller. These reminded me of similar sized flies which were so popular in the North East when fishing for sea trout. Had this angler fished the lower Dee or Ythan?

I ended up with about 100 flies which were too worn to use but were tied on good hooks, mainly salmon singles and doubles. I’ll work my way through them, stripping off the old dressing and reusing the hooks to make new flies. Another 30 or so flies were in good order and are now in my fly boxes. I rescued around 80 Jungle Cock eyes a pair of kingfisher feathers, lots of bucktail, a little bit of bronze mallard and the embossed tinsel. Not a bad haul for a fiver!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Yellow Green Peter

I have written about this pattern before but since it has been working well on Lough Mask this year I thought I would give it another mention.

Looking towards Mamtrasna

looking out over the deep water on Lough Mask

An easy fly to tie, most experienced Irish tyers will have the materials in their collection of fur and feathers. No special techniques are required either, the only thing to watch out for is leaving sufficient space at the head for the wings, legs and had hackle. Now, let’s press on with the details.

Hook sizes I would recommend are 10’s and 12’s but if you take a notion to make some on bigger or smaller sizes they might do the job too. For tying silk I have often use brown in size 8/0 but this is a pattern which may benefit from using that lovely Fire Orange silk instead. I will leave this detail up to you.

Starting the silk at the eye and run it down to the point where the body will start, say about a third of the way down the hook shank. Here you catch in a prepared red game cock hackle, dull side facing upwards.

The body hackle has been tied in, now keep running the silk towards the bend and catch in the rib

Keep winding the silk down the hook shank, catching in a length of fine oval gold tinsel on the way. Stop the silk opposite the barb of the hook (if it has one!) and dub on some light claret fur, sufficient to form a tag of perhaps 3 turns. Once that is wound on dub the tying silk with the fur which will make up the body of the fly. This is pea green seal’s fur with a small pinch flash dubbing mixed through.

light claret for the tag

Don’t over do the flash

tie down the body hackle with the rib

I make the wings from paired slips of hen pheasant secondary wing feathers which I have dyed yellow. Keep these low down over the back of the fly. I have used slips from the tail feather of the same bird (also dyed yellow) when I could not lay my hands on the secondaries.

A bag of Hen Pheasant dyed yellow

Next I add some legs on each side of the fly. These are made out of knotted cock pheasant tail fibres and they extend to about half the length of the fly past the bend.

The tricky part – getting the wings just right!

legs next

Finally, tie in a wind the head hackle. Use a grizzle cock hackle dyed yellow. I have a favourite cape for this, an old Indian cock cape of poor quality. It is soft and the dark bars are indistinct, making it pretty much useless for dry flies. I dyed it a dull yellow by adding the merest touch of golden olive to the yellow dye to the bath. I don’t want a vibrant, buttercup yellow for this pattern, the shade is muted and the markings faint. This is very much a case where those of you who dye their own feathers will be at an advantage. Those who don’t will need to rummage about in those bins of ‘seconds’ at fly tying fairs!

soft golden yellow grizzle hackles

A neat head followed by a whip finish is all that is now required before you snip off the waste end of the tying silk.

This is a fly which works well over the deeps on Lough Mask. I confess that I am not a big fan of this way of trout fishing but it is effective and anglers who persevere bring in good bags of fish some days. It seems the brown trout shoal in deep water, feasting on daphnia. Sinking lines are used to get to the right depth (the clouds of daphnia rise or fall depending on light levels) and the anglers who work on finding the right depth as well as the right patterns will be more successful.

The Yellow Green Peter works on any position on the leader and is a reliable performer from June onwards until the end of the season in September. I have used it to fool trout on Lough Conn too and I suspect it could deliver the goods on Scottish lochs.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Wickhams variant

For almost as long as I have been fly fishing the Wickham’s Fancy has been a favourite of mine. Rainbows used to love it and brownies accepted it willingly either as a small dry or the wet version, especially in the evenings. Sea trout fell for its undoubted charms too and it could frequently be found on my cast on those far off halcyon days of my youth as I fished the ADAA Pots and Fords water on the lower Dee.

Pots and Fords, river dee

I used to love fishing here on the Pots and Fords

The only issue I have ever had with the Wickham’s is the wings. The blae wings, made from paired slips of Jay or Starling, always looked lovely on newly tied flies but by the time they had caught one or two fish the wings had become a shapeless mass of broken fibres, even though the rest of the fly was in perfectly serviceable condition. I thought it was high time I made efforts to address this issue.

The wings look grand when newly tied

As well as giving the fly a new wing I decided to use Fire Orange tying silk (a common addition these days). Leaving a few turns exposed at the end of the body as a sort of tag and clear coating the turns of silk at the head gives not one but two aiming points for the fish.

dimming light on a summer's evening

dimming light on a summer’s evening, time to try this fly

The rest of the dressing remains the same until we get to the wing. Here I was looking for a strong material which could take a good deal of punishment without being too stiff. Squirrel tail hair, unbleached but dyed olive, fitted the bill nicely. I aimed to keep the wing quite slim so there is some movement in it. I will give this one a swim when I am next in a boat fishing for trout.

Wickhams variant

The finished fly

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

The Gull

The rugged coast of Erris Head

The day we walked the Erris Loop provided me with a couple of new fly tying feathers. As we neared the end of our walk I spotted two snowy white breast feathers from a gull just lying there on the sheep nibbled grass. Picking them up I pondered the possibilities and the seeds of an idea for a mayfly pattern were sown in my imagination. The feathers were slipped into a jacket pocket for safe keeping.

the pair pf white gull feathers

The pair of white gull feathers

Adding a white hackle to the front of lough flies is not a new idea. The White Hackled Invicta has been around for years, a proven killer to some anglers and a waste of bloody time to others! The White Hackled Green Peter is way more reliable in my opinion, a great fly for both trout and salmon here in Ireland. I turn to the WHGP on dark, scoury days when I like to imagine the head hackle stands out in the inky black water. Both of these patterns feature white cock hackles but I thought that using the highly mobile gull feathers might be just as good (if not better).

A rather tired looking size 12 White Hackled Invicta from my fly box

The White Hackled Green Peter; a cracking fly. This particular specimen is sporting a pair of   pheasant tail legs.

What I had in mind for this new pattern was a fly to use on the top dropper in a big wave when the mayfly are hatching. I know that the last thing the angling world needs is yet another wet mayfly pattern but I get huge enjoyment out of just tying flies so even if this one is not an instant hit with the fish I’ll have some fun at the vice.

There is a bit of tying goes into making this one but the secret is to leave plenty of space at the head for winding all those hackles.

Hook: 8 or 10 wet fly

Silk: brown, 8/0

Tag: mirage opal

Tails: some cock pheasant tail fibres or moose main hair, either natural or you could dye them black

Ribs (2): a length of oval silver tinsel. This is closely followed by a piece of Glo-brite red floss (no. 4)

Body: In two halves. The tail half is dubbed golden olive seals fur. The front half is crimson seals fur.

Shoulder hackle (1): French partridge, dyed yellow

Shoulder hackle (2): A mallard duck flank feather dyed golden olive, one turn is enough

Shoulder hackle (3): A golden pheasant yellow body feather

Head hackle: white breast feather from a gull or tern

French Partridge feathers, dyed yellow

French Partridge feathers, dyed yellow

Prepared French Partridge feather

This is how the partridge feather should look before tying it in.

Tag tied in and the hackles all ready for winding once the body has been dubbed on

The Gull

the finished fly

With nature running so late this season due to the cold spring I’m expecting the mayfly to start hatching in about two weeks time. I normally see the first ones on Cullin during the last week in April but the water temperature is still too low for the nymphs to make the hazardous journey to the surface.

mayfly-dun.jpg

natural mayfly

This fly is very much intended for classic Irish wetfly fishing, ‘stroking the water’ with a team of three flies. I will fish it on the bob, trailing it through the waves to leave a wake which will attract the fish. That gentle rhyme of the waves, the warm, soft Irish air and the swish of the fly rods as you drift over shallow water is a balm to any fisher’s soul. I’ll curse at the fish who miss the fly and smile when the rod bends into a wild fish. Any day now…………………….

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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.

waiting-room2

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.

costaweir_22may17.jpg

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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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Jenning’s Dabbler

The inspiration – a Jenning’s nymph

I was contemplating the Jenning’s Nymph the other day and decided to make a Dabbler based loosely on it. I already have plenty of Claret Dabblers in the box but none sporting a peacock herl body. The more I thought about this the stranger this omission looked. We all know how deadly flies with peacock herl can be yet I’ve never seen it used on a Dabbler. The same applies to brown partridge hackles. I intended to right this grave injustice.

Pattern:

Hook: the trusty old Kamasan b175 or something very similar

Tying silk: I used some Fire Orange in 8/0

Tail: A few fibres from a cock pheasant tail feather

Rib: fine copper wire

Body: in two halves, the tail end is dubbed with light claret seal’s fur. At the head end wind on three peacock herls

Body hackle: medium claret cock hackle

Cloak: bronze mallard

Head hackle: tied in front of the cloak – a large brown partridge hackle

Head: formed with the tying silk then coated with clear varnish.

As yet untied but this looks like it should be a useful pattern for early trout fishing on the western lakes. It will get a swim in Mask or Conn soon I hope.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sooty Olive

Picture the scene if you will; it’s early season on the Western lakes and the urge to fish has brought you to the shores of Lough Mask. Still too early for the gorse to bloom, everywhere in sight is coloured in sombre duns and greys. That joyous rush of prescient life, that hope and expectation of each new spring is still somewhere over the horizon. For now there is cold and rawness to battle, numb handed clumsiness on unfriendly waves to counter with layers of new-fangled, hi-tech clothing. No fish to be seen or flies hatching amid the acres of island strewn water to feed hopes of action. This is not fishing for the faint of heart but rather those of stoic resolution and sometimes just sheer bloody-mindedness.

Rod and reel assembled, line threaded with pale, unfeeling fingers and leader tied and tested, now you are faced with the big decision – what flies to tie on the end. Some fishers agonise over the choice of fly at this time of year but I am not one of them. Long ago I freed myself from the mental torture and physical handwringing when faced with the selection of flies for early season work. I stick to 4 patterns as a rule, swapping them around different positions on the leader if I want something to do but rarely, if ever, resorting to rummaging in the box for alternatives.

Today I am going to discuss that mainstay of early season trouting in Ireland, the Sooty Olive. For some inexplicable reason this pattern does not seem to have travelled well and is little used beyond Erin’s shores. Why? It is easy to tie and is effective at times when the fish can be hard to catch. It is probably taken for a number of different food items which scurry and crawl on or near the lake bottom but the general consensus is that the trout mistake it for a buzzer.

What colour is Sooty Olive? Ask a dozen different anglers that question and you will get a dozen different answers! To me it is a dark, brownish olive. Others will say it is a very dark olive while some avow it is the darkest shade of green olive. Some tyers mix some black fur in with dark olive to get the shade they require. If you want an easy way of solving this riddle then purchase some of Frankie McPhillips pre-mixed Sooty Olive fur. That narrows it down to just two shades and I prefer the darker one.

You can buy the pre-mixed dubbing in individual packs or as part of a dozen different Irish dubbing colours

As to the pattern itself, well here again there are a number of different claimants for the crown. For me the basic wet fly consists of sooty olive fur body ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel. The tail is formed of a few strands of Golden Pheasant tippet and the hackle is either a black hen hackle or one dyed sooty olive. Wings are always bronze mallard (probably the only thing our mythical 12 anglers would agree upon).

Adding a red fur section before the hackle is tied in makes a useful variant. Swapping the gold rib out for one of copper wire is also popular. I have seen a glo-brite no. 4 tag and rib added too.  Dying the tippets red or orange is favoured by some.

I carry Sooty’s in a wide range of sizes, all the way from 8’s right down to teeny weeny 14’s. Here is how to tie this great lough fly.

Use black tying silk

Tie in a hen hackle of the colour you want to use – here I am making the fly with a natural black one

catch in tippets and some fine gold wire as you run the silk to the bend

Dub the fur on to the silk and wind it back to where the hackle was tied in. Rib in open turns with the oval gold and snip off the waste end

Wind the hen hackle – about three turns. Tie in and remove the waste

The only tricky part is forming the wings with paired slips of bronze mallard. Form a neat head and whip finish

Dabbler versions of the Sooty are also in legion. I’ll save those for another day!

Anyone guess what my other 3 early season patterns are?

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