Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Blae and Black

There are some flies in every angler’s box that they have next to total faith in. Those ‘fail-me-never’ patterns we reach for either when nothing else is working or specific conditions demand their use. A big brown Murrough late at night in July on Lough Carra, a size 14 wet Wickhams fancy in a fast run when I have failed to match the hatch during an evening rise, a red-headed Silver Dabbler when the trout are on pin fry………….. the list goes on. Near the top of my list is a small fly we all know but may not realise its effectiveness – the Blae and Black. Let’s take a closer look at this unassuming wee fly.

I believe the Blae and Black is a Scottish pattern by birth. ‘Blae’ to we Scots means a flat grey colour which perfectly describes the shade of the wings. Just like the ‘Mallard’, ‘Grouse’ or ‘Teal’ series of flies there is an extensive range of ‘Blae’ winged patterns but none ever reached the levels of popularity of the Blae and Black. An old fly, over the years it has been used and abused by generations of us anglers. The original is still the best in my opinion but there are many options for changing this fly. Here is a breakdown of how it should be tied.

The Hook

Most writers seem to suggest the Blae and Black can be tied on hooks ranging in size from 10 to 14. I beg to differ about this. For me the Blae and Black is always a small pattern, size 16 is by far the best in my humble opinion. A 14 has produced a smattering of trout for me over the years but it is a size 16 (or smaller) which mainly does the business for me. With such a small hook you need to think carefully about the hook design. On waters where the fish are small you can get away with lighter wire hooks but this is dangerous where bigger trout might be encountered. I personally use heavyweight size 16’s for this fly.

Back in Scotland the Blae and Black was often tied on wee doubles and bloody effective they were too! Early season outings on lochs and reservoirs would inevitably see me fishing this pattern if there were dark buzzers hatching. I never see them being used here in Ireland but there is no reason why tiny size 16 doubles would not work. I would not dream of using wee doubles where there are populations of small trout or worse still salmon parr/smolts. The wee double bites deep and should only be used where you expect good sized trout. The nice thing about the double hooked fly is its ability to sink quickly. That alone can make the difference some days.

The Tail

A wisp of red on this well chewed size 18

On the original fly the red tail was made from fibres of a red feather taken from a Scarlet Ibis, Eudocimus Ruber. These gorgeous birds inhabit coastal regions in South America. The trade in Ibis feathers has long gone and instead we now use a few fibres of swan or goose dyed scarlet instead. I have a dislike for ibis subs which are too ‘pinky’ in shade, I want a strong, vibrant red for the tail. While it is easy to dye some white feathers yourself the cost of a packet of dyed goose is only  a few cents. the same material is used for the tails on a huge range of traditional wet flies too.

A Scarlet ibis. Like so many other rare and beautiful birds they were shot so their feathers could be used for making ladies hats and as a by product they found their way into Victorian flies.

Another option for the tail is a short length of floss silk dyed red. Modern tyers also take this one step further and use Glo-brite no. 4 floss to form the tail.

 

The Rib

the silver wire rib tied in at the hook bend

You have a couple of options for the rib, either fine oval silver tinsel or silver wire. I am a huge fan of oval silver tinsel usually but for this pattern I generally favour the fine silver wire instead. It just ‘looks’ better to me on the very small hooks. An important point is to make sure you wind the wire rib counter to the direction of the floss silk wraps of the body. This makes sure the rib sits on top of the floss and doesn’t dig into to it.

The Body

I guess you could use a lot of different materials to form the body but I stick to the old traditional floss silk. I like the shiny nature of the silk and it makes a nice slim body, just like the buzzers the fly represents. If your floss is too thick then split it down, you don’t want a bulky body lads! Floss used to be made from raw silk and older tyers may have a spool or two of the real stuff still in their kit. These days rayon floss is the one you buy and it is just as shiny as the real silk.

The Hackle

a small dyed black hen hackle, just the job!

Cock or hen? That is the question. Me, I  personally plump for a hen hackle but I will concede this is purely a personal preference and that the fish probably don’t give two hoots.

Winding the hackle before the wings are applied is the norm but I sometimes tie the fly with the hackle wound in front of the wings and it looks good. I insist on winding the hackle, none of your ‘beard hackles here please. Don’t go overboard when winding the hackle, a couple of turns is ideal.

 

The Wings

Starling. For me it has to be starling. Other options include Jay (lighter and difficult to work with) or Waterhen (darker but still look good).

Now do you tie the wings inside or out? By this I mean do the wings have the shiny side facing outwards or inwards? For me there is no right or wrong way and I tie both.

 

Variations

Where do I start!

  1. Add a small red fur thorax
  2. Make the wings out of a pair of pure white hackle tips
  3. Use tippets for the tail instead of the ibis subs
  4. Add a pair of tiny Jungle cock as cheeks
  5. Use gold wire for the rib instead of silver
  6. Swap the black hen hackle for a badger hackle

Blae and Silver

A small red thorax tied under the wings

The list goes on but each one just takes you further away from the original and best version. The Blae and Silver is the same fly but with a solid silver tinsel body. Then again you can veer off into the world of Saltoun’s with ginger hackles.

As I said earlier, there is a whole range of blae-winged flies to tie. Different coloured bodies and hackles produce flies for a wide range of occasions. Probably the Blae and Silver is the most common. I’ve caught trout on a Blae and Ginger before now too.

How to fish the Blae and Black

One of the beauties of this fly is its sheer versatility. It works on rivers as well as on still waters and it can be very effective when any of the small black naturals are hatching or falling on to the water. When occupying a position on a wet fly leader I prefer to place it on the tail. However, I have found over the years that this is a fly which works best on its own on the end of a light cast. Cast to rising fish and twitched back ever-so-slowly it can be absolutely deadly. Another trick is to cast directly into the rings of a rising trout and do nothing, just let the fly sink. You will be amazed how often the line will suddenly straighten and a trout is on the end.The temptation to start pulling the line back through the rings needs to be suppressed as the delay between the fly landing in the water and that glorious instant when the line tightens can be quite long

In these days of mop flies the art of applying a pair of tiny starling wings to a size 16 wet fly may seem like too much trouble to master but I can assure you it will be worth the effort.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing

Oddball baits

I own a ridiculous number of old baits, most of which will, in all probability, never see the water. They dangle from racks on the walls of my fishing den, jostle for position in numerous tackle boxes or lie sedately on the bench awaiting refurbishment. Plain silver or gold ones, brassy and coppery ones, multi-hued creations or bright flourescent ones, they are all somewhere in my fishing collection.  I confess that just have too many lures and not enough time to try them all out. The vast majority of them are your bog-standard Toby and Rapalas, but there are a few oddballs kicking around in my collection. For those of you who share my passion for slivers of old metal and plastic here are some of yesterday’s baits that you may not be familiar with.

Tommy

The Tommy spoon is an unusual shape with a wee ‘lug’ on the end of one side which the hook is attached too. This off-centre attachment makes it wobble around in an unusual fashion, one which generations of fish must have found attractive as ABU manufactured and sold this spoon for a long time last century. They made the Tommy over a period of about 30 years from what I can gather which suggests to me that it must have been a productive bait for the anglers who invested in them.

Like so many other spoon baits the Tommy is scaled on one side. Does this make a difference? We will never know but the idea of mimicking fish scales appears to us to be a good move. It catches anglers even if it does not fool the fish. Manufacturers stamp the scales on the convex side of spoons for some reason. All Tommy spoons that I have seen also sport a thin red or orange strip along one edge on the concave side. ABU obviously thought this added to they spoons fish catching ability as they used it on a number of their products.

That off-centre wobbling motion could suggest an injured fish to predators. ABU made the Tommy in a wide range of sizes and colours, including the tiny ‘Lill’ version which weighed in at a paltry 7 grams. ABU made Lill versions of a host of different lures over the years, mainly for targeting smaller species like perch and trout. I have one only of the Lill Tommy versions in silver and gold. It is a bit knocked about but what else can you expect for a lure which is at least forty years old? I can’t recall having ever tried this one out in anger- maybe next year…………..

Then there is the big copper Tommy which came to me sans hook, sans swivel, sans everything except for the spoon itself, liberally coated in a layer of grime. Once cleaned up and re-armed it looks good and it should tempt the odd Pike on a frosty late autumn morning. My 30 gram copper one is at least 50 years old! I like the idea that it will still catch the occasional fish after half-a-century.

 

Torsjo (also marketed as the Daffy in America)

With its orange ‘fins’ on each edge this is an instantly recognisable spoon made by ABU. To me it looks like a very old design. I can’t imagine some hip young fella on his PC drawing the crazy outline of the Torsjo on a CAD programme. Was this spoon supposed to look like a small flat fish? Who can tell? The ‘fins’ on the edges don’t seem to impart any particular action that I can see but perhaps they act as some sort of stabilizer.

The Torsjo first made an appearance way back in 1949 and ran right through until 1972 when it was discontinued.

I have one all silver Torsjo which weighs in at 15 grams. Given its age, it is in good condition. My issue with this spoon is what is it supposed to be used for? I guess it would tempt a grilse but I am not 100% sure what else would grab it. If it was heavier I would use it in salty water but at 15 grams it is a tad too light for that craik. Sudden revelation: would the Torsjo be any good spinning for sea trout in estuaries? I am used to trying longer, thinner and heavier baits like the ABU Krill when spinning for estuary sea trout but maybe the Torsjo is an alternative?

An interesting aside is the influence of the Torsjo on the legendary Toby design. When ABU started to make prototype Toby spoons (or the Tobis as it was then called) the lure did not have those distinctive little fins on the rear of the bait. The designers were not happy with the lures action in the water and someone had the idea the ‘fins’ on the Torsjo might be a clue to stabilising the Tobis as it was retrieved. Small fins were added and an improvement was seen immediately, so after some further tweaking the pair of fins became one of the instantly recognisable features of the Toby for generations to come.

Fins on a Toby, inspired by the Torsjo!

Then one day while on holiday I was mooching around a supermarket in Poland. I was supposed to follow the carefully written shopping list but I stumbled upon a whole aisle dedicated to fishing tackle, so I ditched the shopping list and got down to a closer inspection of what was on offer. Surprise, surprise – on a rack of metal lures made by a company called ‘POLSPING’ I spotted a copper coloured spoon named the CEFAL. Was this a copy of the old ABU Torsjo?

On the same rack there was another copper bait which looked like a skinny ABU ‘Tylo’, this one being called a PERKOZ. These baits are equipped with strong split rings and good quality VMC treble hooks. The only issue I have with them is they do not come with a swivel but it is only the work of a few minutes to add barrel swivels to them. After parting with a few more zlotys, both of these baits were in my basket, starting the long journey which would see them tried out on the Conn next season.

 

 

Pep

Looking somewhat like a Toby spoon the Pep had a short and undistinguished life. Stamped out of thick metal, the Pep looks like it should be a good catcher but I have yet to hook a damn thing on them! I suspect that this lack of success on the end of angler’s lines translates quickly to poor repeat sales and lures which are ineffective don’t last too long. We fishers see our baits as vital items in our armoury which we lovingly look after and consider. To the hard-headed business people who manufacture fishing tackle each SKU must generate a profit. The Pep fell short when it came to catching fish and this led to its demise.

Both of my examples weigh in at 18 grams which I would have thought was the most popular size for a bait like this. One is gold and the other one is silver and each has a lick of red paint on one edge and blue or green on the other. I am toying with the idea of trying the Pep for Mackerel since they are not too fussy when it comes to baits. I’d like to catch something (anything) on a Pep!

 

 

 

Hogbom

Now this is a real odd-bod! Manufactured in Sweden by another company the licence was bought by ABU back in the 1940’s. I understand the lure was designed for use on the famous River Morrum in southern Sweden by an engineer named Mr. Hogbom. The bold Mr. Hogbom created a lure unlike any other that I have seen. The folded metal body is roughly fish-shaped. There is up-tilted, flat, angled ‘tail’ gives the lure its action. ABU dropped them for many years then they made a comeback between the mid-sixties and 1976 when they disappeared for good. I only have one of these strange baits, a gold pre-ABU one which weighs 20 grams.

If the Hogbom was designed for use on the Morrum it was made to be attractive to salmon and sea trout – and big ones at that! The river Morrum has a global reputation for big salmonids as any online search will show. Photos and videos abound of massive sea-trout and gigantic salmon caught there. What interests me is the way the treble hook is attached to the Hogbom if it was being cast in front of these huge fish. A piece of stainless steel wire passes through the middle of the bait, out of sight for most of its length. Maybe I worry too much but I would like to see that vital couple of inches of wire are in perfect condition before I chuck it at a fish of a lifetime!

The treble hook on  my Hogbom is dressed with a rakish looking orange hackle. It softens the otherwise hard lines of the Hogbom. Other examples I have seen are adorned with only bare hooks.

The question is does it work? Disappointingly it has failed to produce the goods so far but I will keep giving it an occasional swim.

 

 

Morrum Spinner

While we are talking about the legendary river Morrum I will show you my only example of the ABU Morrum Spinner. I love these mad-looking baits! The unusual head which acts as a keel is placed in front of the spinner blade on a separate piece of wire. Behind that are a set of beads which form the main body of the lure. The problem I have with the Morrum spinner is that it tangles when casting. Maybe this is a function of my bad technique or maybe it is a function of the articulated nature of the lure. It is so unlike any other lure in my box that it catches my eye every time I lift the lid. Trolled behind the boat it has only tempted small Pike so far.


 

 

 

Glimmy

Ah, the Glimmy! I really like these old spoons and snap them up if I ever see them for sale. A very old lure, they are hard to find these days which is a shame as they are mighty fish producers. The smallest ones are fatally attractive to perch for some reason so on a very slow day I clip a Lill-Glimmy on and run the boat over one of the noted spots for perch. It almost always produces a bend in the rod for me!

The first Glimmy’s appeared in 1951 and back then they came in only two sizes, a meaty 30 gram version and whopper of a spoon that weighed in at an impressive 38 grams. These early examples were both the same length (90mm), just stamped out of different thicknesses of metal.

Years passed and ABU expanded the range of sizes to include the 18 gram and 12 gram Glimmy. These ones are both a nice size for salmon trolling, so if you are keen on that branch of the sport look out for Glimmy spoons and give them a try. These are not easy to find as ABU only made the 18 and 12 gram Glimmy for three years from 1973 until 1976. Those nice wee Lill-Glimmy’s can be as old as 1952! I’m currently looking out for a gold Lill Glimmy as my last example wedged itself on the bottom of lough Conn a couple of seasons ago. The gold coloured ones seem to be particularly effective.

A pair of silver lill Glimmy spoons

 

 

Facette

I only have one of these spoons and it probably takes up the space of a more useful lure if I am honest. Angular in shape, they do have a lively action in the water. My sole example was once black in colour but it is faded now to a marled grey. The outside sports some sort of a reflective material. I got my hands on this spoon just to see what it was like on the end of the line and it does hop around a fair bit when trolled at even a slow speed. Unfortunately the fish seem to be seriously unimpressed with the Facette, or at least with the flashy 18 gram one that I own.

Originally released on to the market in the 1950’s this spoon came in the standard 7/12/18 gram formats but it vanished again at some point in the 1960’s. I think I am right in saying that the Facette then re-appeared back in the late 1970’s. Now it was clad on one side in the reflective tape like my one. With that added bling it looked like a ‘70s lure. I think of it as the Morris Ital of the lure world. It is pretty much crap!

Morris Ital 1.3 HL

 

Safir

a bit worn maybe but they still work just fine

The Safir was a small spoon which ABU made during the period from the late 1940’s through to the end of the 1950’s. I have only ever seen them in 7gr and 10gr weights but maybe they produced bigger ones for all I know. The lads in southern Sweden seem to have had a problem deciding on the colour scheme for these wee spoons as they came in a wide range of variations, most (but not all) had a red or orange painted inner side. The convex face could be silver, copper or gold or some were a mix of different metallic colours.

That 10 gram silver/copper Safir in the photo above can be accurately dated because the weight is stamped on it below the word ‘Sweden’. This was only done by the factory in 1957 apparently.

So are they any good? The Safir is a bit on the small side for most of my fishing so they tend to lead a quiet life, snuggled into a compartment of a big tackle box. On the rare occasions I snap one on to the end of a trace they have brought in Perch and jack Pike. Nice wee spoons though………….

7 gram silver/gold Safir

 

Plankton

Closely akin to the Safir  is another ABU spoon, the Plankton. Deeply concave and semi-scaled, this spoon has a great action in the water. During its 30 year life the Plankton went through remarkably few changes to the colour. The basic silvers and coppers are available in the 7gm, 12gm and 20gm sizes and are still for sale on the secondhand market these days. I have only recently acquired some 12’s and 20’s for my box but one of them is a lovely silver and copper which looks great in coloured water. I’ll try them for Pike, confident that they should do the business.

trio-of-planktons.jpg

Not sure about the BG coloured one I own, I’ve never been a fan of that Bluegill pattern for some reason.

a pair of 20 gram silver Planktons

 

ABU-draget

These are an old design which A.B.Urfabriken introduced around the end of the second world war. With ABU stamped on the top of the convex surface we fishers of a certain vintage have grown up simply calling this one the ‘ABU spoon’. I only possess a copper 15 gram and a silver 20 gram but it came in a wide range of colours and some were even equipped with an additional treble at the head end too.

The ABU-draget has a lovely slow, rolling action in the water. The 15 gram size measures about 50mm, a fine size for summer salmon.

Production of the ABU-draget ended in 1975 and this unimposing little spoon was consigned to history. I like this one though and I keep an eye out for them on the secondhand market. I’d like to find a 20 gram copper version – I’s suspect it could be a killer!

 

 

Barramundi Mauler

Always a sucker for a good name, I had to buy one of these when I came across it. Marketed in Australia (hence the name) this a well-made plug, one which should stand up to a lot of punishment. I have never tangled with a Barramundi but I’m guessing they are tough customers which can destroy poorly made baits. This is another deep diver and it came equipped with stout treble hooks and hefty split rings for battling big, aggressive fish.

Similar to a lot of other plugs already ensconced in my tackle bag, it may be just the lure to give me a salmon someday. Then again, maybe it won’t. Great name though!

 

 

Risto Rap

The hot Alabama sun beats down on the lily pad fringed pond where the old angler is flipping his bait out. It catches the rays of the sun as it sails 20 yards through the moist air before landing with a resounding ‘plop’. The snapping turtle watches him from the sunken log it is hiding behind as the short baitcasting rod twitches during the retrieve. Small Bluegills and crappies shoal in the shallows, constantly moving as they search for food while keeping an eye out for their enemy – the largemouth bass. The angler fans his precise casts out to cover the deep water, sweat on his brow under the weathered John Deere baseball cap. Just as he thinks he is wasting his time the rod slams over into a sharp bend and battle is joined with a stubby four pounder. The Risto Rap has worked again.

That is how and where I image Rapala’s Risto Rap was supposed to work. I expect it was made with the American Bass fishing market in mind. It sports a gargantuan front lip to push the buoyant bait down to about 8 feet below the surface. My own one is a nice, flashy chrome example. Rapala stopped making them a while ago and they are hard to find these days.

I was looking around for a plug to dive that bit deeper when I came across the Risto Rap. Drop offs have always fascinated me and the thought that big fish are lurking in the black water just over the edge from the shallows sends shivers up my spine. I wanted a plug to troll deeply in that zone and I figured the Risto Rap was worth a try. Watch this space………………………..

 

 

Landa Lukki

Fancy a change from tossing Toby spoons? Then look out for Landa Lukki spoons. Made in UK in the late 70’ and 80’s these were good copies of the famous Swedish Toby. They work too! The best news is that you can find them easily on the second-hand market where they change hands for very little money. I recently bought half-a-dozen perfectly good Lukkis for less than a Euro each.

Sizes are similar to the Toby but the colour range is restricted to the basics. Lukki spoons with slashed sides, marketed as ‘Lukki Turbo’ can also be found out there. These can bend easily under pressure so check them if you have to free them from rocks or other stickers on the bottom. If they are out of shape simply bend them back again and carry on fishing.

As a side note, Landa used to make a really nice bait called the ‘Herring’. Now this did not look much to the untrained eye but by jingo they slaughtered Pollock and Mackerel. I have lost all the ones I used to own bar one tiny wee gold specimen which is too small to fish in the sea. I keep looking for more of them but with no luck so far.

 

All of the lures (even the Pep) will catch a fish on their day. Trolling can be a boring pastime so swapping baits helps to liven up an otherwise quiet day. The ABU spoons in particular were very well made baits. High quality metals must have been used in their construction because they have lasted so well.

I am a late comer to trolling and it will always be my second choice when fishing Lough Conn. On those days when the fly is not going to be effective, such as flat calm and brilliant sunshine, I turn to the trolling rods and trail the ironmongery behind the boat for a while. Using these old baits adds something to an otherwise boring day. If you left me to fish with only a single 18 gram silver and copper Toby I strongly suspect I’d still catch the same number of salmon but the enjoyment of a day cannot always be measured simply by the number of fish. When a silvery salmon grabs that oddly shaped few grams of metal, stamped out on a press in a factory in southern Sweden decades ago, I feel a tingle inside. Oddballs are good in my book.

On the troll

 

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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 back 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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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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trolling, trout fishing

Killer on Loch Cluanie

With no fishing right now due to the ongoing drought I have been amusing myself by sorting through some old gear which was jumbled into an old biscuit tin. There were lots of Mepps and other small spoons which I am unlikely to ever use again but an ABU Killer was tangled up in amongst the French spoons. I think these plugs are deadly, an appreciation which can be traced all the way back to my childhood.

Summer holidays back then in the late ‘60’s involved the family plus some suitcases wedged into a Triumph Toledo and we all headed off to the North or West of Scotland. These were simpler times, no notion of passports, theme parks or cheap sun holidays laced with red wine. No, instead we three kids spent a couple of mid-summer weeks in the outdoors being bitten by midges, splashing about in rivers or bouncing about on the back of poor old trekking ponies. My two sisters loved the trekking bit while I just wanted to have a fishing rod in my hand. Looking back on it now I wonder at the patience of my long suffering parents as they did everything possible to keep us all happy and safe.

My love affair with the ABU Killer was complex. Pocket money certainly did not stretch to the purchase of these very expensive ABU plugs. The silver example I was so proud of had been recovered from the bottom of the river Don at Inverurie sometime before when my worming gear had stuck on an underwater object which turned out to be the branch of a tree. The blackened, knarled limb must have been washed down in a flood from the expensive beats up river because nobody I knew who fished that cheap, local authority stretch could afford a Killer. However it got there it was now the centrepiece of my collection of spinners. I had never actually used it, being far too afraid it would get stuck on the bottom again. So it languished in the old tobacco tin, biding its time.

I must have been about 11 or maybe 12 years old when the Killer showed its true metal. The family holiday that year was a week in a rented cottage in Wester Ross. The oft travelled A96 up to Inverness, down the shore of Loch Ness through Drumnadrochit to Glenmoriston where the road turns off to the west and the amazing drive through Kintail with the Five Sisters towering over the road. The cottage was an old house with some basic appliances but it was all we needed and I have many fond memories of that vacation.

I had extracted a promise from my father that he would take me fishing on one of the big lochs. I think it might have been the second last day of the holiday before that promise was honoured, so anticipation had been building to fever pitch. The mighty River Moriston had at one time been one of the great salmon rivers of Scotland. It drained the wild lands of Kintail, pouring itself into Loch Ness after a tumultuous journey through the giant cleft in the land. Then, in the late 1950’s the surveyors and engineers arrived, bringing with them the plan for cheap electricity and the death warrant for the river. Great dams throttled the Moriston and the salmon were exterminated from the upper river. Huge reservoirs were created to feed the ever hungry turbines and the splash of leaping salmon was replaced by the low hum of the generators. The salmon are long gone but the little brown trout from the river found better pickings in the newly created still waters and they grew to a better size. It was these brownies I wanted to catch.

A Tay-rigged ABU Killer

I recall the Cluanie Inn was where you could hire a boat for a day (maybe it still is for all I know).  Few shillings changed hands and we set off in the car to the end of the loch where the boat was moored. I suspect it was only when my dad saw the cockleshell 12 footer that the enormity of the day ahead really struck him. We were going to fish a 10 mile long loch from a wee rowing boat with the emphasis very firmly on the ‘rowing’ part. I had been doing my homework and I knew what to do, father had to row the boat while a trolled a bait behind us. I was so full of excitement! Dad looked utterly dejected.

We set off and I got myself sorted, a wooden devon (silver in colour with a deep blue back to it) was lowered into the water and the line paid out until a good 30 yards separated the rod from the bait. I hunkered down to concentrate of the rod tip, snake-like concentration being required on my part. Dad pulled gamely on the oars, steady strokes which I had to tell him to increase in speed as we were not dragging the devon through the water quickly enough in my estimation. He muttered something inaudible through gritted teeth and picked up the pace slightly. My cobra’s stare deepened.

My faded copy of the 1965 ‘Game fishing in mainland Ross and Cromarty’

 

The entry for Loch Cluanie

We kept this up for maybe an hour before the rod gave an almighty lurch and the reel screamed. A half-pounder was soon in the boat and one wee boy was thrilled to say the least. Even dad managed a smile before I announced that the other shore might be a better spot to try next. He suggested that we eat our sandwiches first before covering the width of the loch (again). I was enjoying every minute of this most magical of days, dad on the other hand seemed to be wilting ever so slightly.

The following couple of hours were painfully blank and the solitary trout looked like a poor return for all our (sorry, his) efforts. I had changed the bait a couple of times but nothing interested the fish. Dad began to talk about heading back and how we better not be late. I needed some inspiration and as I poked around in my ‘Golden Virginia’ tin of baits I figured it was time to do the unthinkable – actually use the ABU Killer. With trembling hands I tied it on to the end of the line and tested the knot. I swear I was more afraid of losing the bait than any thought of catching a fish on it. I had read that some pike lived in this loch and in my mind’s eye I could envision a huge pike severing the line as he engulfed my lovely silver plug.

Dad rowed stoically on, nothing was said but I could see he had surreptitiously turned the boat in the direction of the far off mooring spot. Within minutes of immersion in the peaty waters my ABU Killer produced the goods! An alarming whack on the rod was almost instantly followed by the sight of a trout leaping clear of the small waves. A good trout, twice the size of the first lad. He fought well but not well enough and dad scooped him out of the loch and into the boat. My suggestion that we ‘take another run over that spot again’ was not well received and instead we picked up speed as we made a bee-line for the mooring.

It turned out to be the only fish that Killer caught. A few seasons later it did indeed snag on the bottom and the line parted when I tried to yank it free. I was sad to lose it just because of the memory of the day on Loch Cluanie but by then I was working and had money to buy a replacement if desired. Salmon have fallen for Killers fished by me over the years since then and even when I discovered Rapalas the old ABU plug still snuck on to the end of my trace from time to time.

The Abu Killer was in fact made in America (the same applied to Cello and Hi-lo plugs from ABU). These days ABU Garcia have them made in the Far East. I still pick up old ones second hand for not much money. I have less fear of losing them now! Funny how a couple of inches of plastic, moulded in the land of the free, can create such memories.

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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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