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, trout fishing, wetfly

Clogher

A short spin up a narrow road from Westport there is brown sign which points down an even narrower road to a magical little lough called Clogher. Despite having previously lived in close proximity to Clogher I had never wet a line on it, not until this evening.

A single boat resides in the tiny harbour, a boat which you can hire for a small sum. My partner and I loaded up and set off through a maze of reeds to reach the open water, a feat which will become all but impossible in a few short weeks as the reeds grow up.

Light rods and lines are the order of the day on lakes like this where the trout are not large. Anything over half-a-pound is a good fish here so there is no requirement for powerful rods. I was using an 11 footer which cast a number 6 line but I would have been just as happy with a four weight set up.

From the outset there were a few fish rising, just the odd one here and there but enough to keep the interest going. Soon we were rising fish and missing the majority of them. I got one on a Green Peter but he was only a wee lad.

the first one of the evening

This was going to be the pattern for the evening, numerous rises, tweaks, pulls and every variation in between! Enough of them stuck to keep us both happy though. Early on I had an unusual catch – a very small sea trout>

A silvery sea trout

Most of the action was to be had close to or even in amongst the reeds which fringe parts of the lake. Trout and vegetation were hooked in equal measure.

in the reeds

In the three hours we were on the water I had two trebles and two doubles, none of them big trout but they gave a good auld pull when two or three of them were on at once.

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two at once

There seems to be good fly life on this lough with a near constant stream of buzzers hatching all evening and some small sedges skittering along the surface. It is also a lovely place to fish, the lush, rolling farmland around the shores is very easy on the eye.

Clogher Lake

The action came in spurts with spells when nothing looked near our flies and then suddenly both rods were in action at the same time. I kept a couple of the better fish for the table but the rest were safely returned. The trout did not seem to be too fussy when it came to fly selection but I found anything with a silver body was boldly taken.

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So, if you find yourself in the Westport area and fancy some not-too-taxing fishing I can humbly suggest that Clogher is well worth an hour or two of your time. A lovely spot with a scatter of free- rising trout in it. What more could you ask for!

Plenty of fish around this area

Got a few on this sedge

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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.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Monday, bloody Monday

The morning slipped away from me but by 11.30 I was behind the wheel and heading off to spend a few hours trout fishing on the River Robe. All the rivers around here are high and this usually improves the fishing on the Robe, so hopes were high as the old green VW rumbled down the road filled with rods and reels. The target area was going to be the fast water below the bridge at Hollymount. I didn’t know it then, but this was going to be an eventful day.

The road bridge at Hollymount, looking upstream

As it turned out, the river level was even higher than I had presumed, meaning the three pools below the road bridge were just too fast for easy fishing. I slung heavy nymphs into the flow but even the tungstens were swept away quickly in the rush of water.

There was no sign of any fly life down here but a pair of swallows showed up, the first I had seen this year. By the time I had reached the lower pool I had made up my mind to try upstream of the bridge where the flow was much more friendly. That was when it all started to go pear-shaped on me.

To access the water above the road bridge you can either wade under the bridge (crossing a number of barbed wire fences in the process) or cross the road, hop a stone wall and head across a field. I always choose the latter option as the barbed wire below the bridge is a proper pain in the b__t. This time I placed my rod over the wall and as I drew my hand away there was a sharp pain in one of my fingers. The middle dropper had sunk into the flesh. I swore!

I poked about at the fly to establish that, yes, it was well past the barb. For those of you who have never had to deal with this scenario here is how you extract a barbed hook from your flesh. Only try this in places you can access easily and NEVER if the hook is in a sensitive area (such as around your eyes). If in doubt, get yourself to a hospital where they will have it out in no time. So, here I was with a size 14 spider stuck in the middle finger of my left hand. Pulling it out is not going to work as the barb just digs in where you try that.

Past the barb, this will have to be pushed through

Instead, you need to push the hook point back out through the skin, then flatten the barb so it can be withdrawn. I am not going to gloss over it, this nips a bit. But it is never as bad as you think it will be and a little pinch is worth the speed of getting back to the fishing. Holding the hook very firmly, angle it up and push the point back through the skin. Feed the hook through until the barb is clear.

Here, I have pushed the hook back out through the skin and you can see the barb which now can be flattened

That is the hard part past, all you need to do now is flatten the barb on the hook. I always keep a pair of de-barbing pliers at hand so this was only the work of a few seconds to mash the barb down. Yes, I know – I should have done this before I started fishing!!!!

Out it comes!

Pushing the hook back out was easy with the aid of the pliers. Blood dripped from the tiny wound but I soon had that cleaned up and a plaster stuck over the hole. I carry a small first aid kit in the car at all times and I would urge you all to do the same, you never know when a small mishap could require patching up.

handy wee tool

That minor drama over I made my way up river. By the old footbridge there are sometimes a few trout feeding but not today. With no flies hatching the river was dead so I decided to change venue. An hour had elapsed and all I had hooked was myself!

The fateful pool

I didn’t even dismantle the rod, just stuck it in the car as it was and drove a few miles to the stretch I fished last week. I felt way more confident here. The air was warmer and the flow of water, while still fast, looked to be much more manageable. The net had caused me nothing but grief at the last spot. This stretch has never produces a fish of more and a pound-and-a-half to me so I decided to leave it in the car this time (you know this is going to end in tears!). I tied up a new leader and started to fish down through the pools. In this type of water I like to flick out a short line with three flies, taking a step each cast. This allows me to cover a lot of water quickly. A few stoneflies were fluttering about in the air so I tied a size 12 Plover and Hare’s Ear on the bob, and March brown spider in the middle and a flashback Endrick Spider on a curved size 12 hook occupied the tail position.

No takers in the first pool, so I started down the next one. There was a difficult fence to negotiate and as I pushed past the jumble of barbed wire and rocks the line tightened. The reel screamed as the fish made a dash for the tail of the pool and  20 yards were stripped from the reel in a flash. He stopped at the tail of the pool and leapt, clearly a very good fish! I could see the fish had taken the bob fly and he seemed to be well hooked so I gingerly played him back up to me, taking my time and countering his darts and runs. Only as he was tiring I recalled the net was still in the car. When I figured he was played out I reached down but as soon as he felt my touch he turned and shot off, snapping the line. He was gone. I estimate that trout was between two and three pounds!

That’s better!

OK, with nobody else to blame I had to pick up the pieces and try again. Another new leader, three more flies. Back on the water, I repeated the same method of presenting the flies and was rewarded quickly with another firm take. A 12 incher came to hand, swiftly followed by some more, smaller fish. This was better!

a tiddler

Working my way down the river I skipped some of the faster water and concentrated on the slower pools.

lovely pool which gave me some smallish trout today

Trout number 5 stuck me in a weedbed but I managed to prize him out. Number 9 jumped a couple of feet in the air when he felt the hook. By the time I reached the bottom of the stretch I had landed ten wild brownies and lost another 4 or 5.

I did not see a single rise but the fish were feeding near the bottom. With a bit more attention to detail I could have landed a very good fish today but still caught a nice bag of fish. Prospects are good for the next few days!

And the moral of this simple tale is ALWAYS BRING YOUR NET!!!!!!

still there in the back of the car.

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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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Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, trout fishing, wetfly

Rainy day on the Robe

Rain fell from the battleship grey skies, the day had been damp since early this morning. Leaden clouds poured pewter drops on me as I tackled up at the bridge across the river. Wet and cold before I even started, the day took a definite turn for the worse when I found there were no thick socks in the car. I normally have lots of pairs lurking in the back of the motor but I must have tidied them up at some point and now I was going to pay the price with cold feet while fishing. Note to self: Chaos is the natural order, DON’T tidy the car!

New sign, that wasn’t here last season!

A new sign has been erected by the Fisheries board at the bridge, giving some very basic information about catch limits, seasons etc.

General angling regs. for the river Robe

Across the way I spotted another new addition – a nice set of steps for access to the upstream part of the river. I have not fished this side of the river above the bridge as it used to be home to a particularly large black bull. Warning signs gave you notice not to enter the field but now the big lad was gone, perhaps to a new home or maybe he is now sausages on your breakfast plate. Anyway, the new ladder makes entry to the field and the river much easier and I look forward to giving that stretch a try out in May/June when good spinner fishing can be had on the weedy, slow-moving water there.

A grand new set of steps

Slow water above the bridge but it holds fish during the summer

The farmer’s gate was in poor condition and held together with a piece of blue rope, delaying me as I squeezed through and then had to re-tie the rope to close the gate. Finally, I was at the waterside and ready to go!

holding water below the bridge

With a pair of wets tied on I fished my way down the first pool without a touch. I was dismayed at the low water, at least a couple of feet below what I would expect at this time of year. Although it was raining today it will take a solid week of wet weather to bring the level back up to where it should be.

The fisheries board had also been busy on the banks too. The trees on both banks have been either trimmed back or even removed altogether. This is a very welcome change for the better as many parts of this particular stretch had become virtually unfishable due to overhanging branches. Well done to the board for all the hard work they have done to bring this piece of water back into full use.

A very short line, hanging the flies in the fast water at the neck of the next pool brought the first action of the session, a fiesty WBT ran and danced across the surface before shedding the hook just as he came to hand. Ah well………………..

Not long after that I had a solid pull and a nice trout came to hand. A quick picture and then he was back in the river again.

a 10 incher

A solitary Large Dark Olive fluttered by but there was no hatch as such. I meandered down the river, casting into likely spots but there was no response from the trout. Flies were changed and different presentation methods given an airing but the fish showed no appreciation of my efforts. The rain eased of for a few minutes only to turn heavier than ever by the time I had reached the next pool. I was, to use a good Scottish phrase, ‘drookit’.

where the second fish came out of

A small trout grabbed the passing fly just where the calm patch in the photo above merged into the faster flow. Again, very short casts allied to reaching with the rod to hold the fly line off the surface while leading the flies round was the successful method. A bit smaller than the first fella, I slipped home back int the water and he shot off, none the worse for our brief encounter.

Looking back upstream to the water I have just fished down – notice how clear the banks are!

Doesn’t look much but this is a great spot

I eventually reached the pool I wanted to fish most, an odd-shaped piece of water with a number of conflicting flows to contend with. It is not easy to fish but I have taken some good fish out of this area. Today was no exception.

Not a monster but very welcome of a miserable day

A partridge and orange fished on a dropper fooled this one. The take was confident and he was well hooked. I could not repeat the feat though so I changed back to a pair of hare’s ear weighted nymphs and fished my way back upriver, retracing my steps to the parked car.

a pair of nymphs

Today was fairly typical of early fishing on the river, with hardly any fly life the fish were dour and holding close to the bottom. I bit more water and higher air temperatures will bring an improvement in the fishing. It was just good to be out again today, rain or no rain!

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