salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

First fish

Close season Saturday afternoons are sacrosanct for me. I endeavour to get all my tasks and odd jobs out of the way by 2pm so that I can disappear into the fishing room for the remainder of the afternoon. I am just too old school for the blandishments of SKY TV sports channels and I actually prefer to listen to radio commentary of the soccer, so I hunker down with steaming mugs of coffee and potter about making flies or repairing tackle listening to the premiership commentary. Cocooned in the wee room like this spares the rest of humanity the pain of listening to me cursing when my beloved Burnley lose a goal or the girlishly high screeches of a pure joy when we hit the back of the net.

Where the magic happens most Saturday afternoons

Saturday afternoons are also a time for both looking forward and back, planning for the next season and reminiscing about times past. Being an angler, this inevitably means recalling the capture of fish so I thought I would share some of these cherished memories with you.

A solitary half pound brownie may not seem like a very memorable fish but when it was the first trout I caught on the fly I think you will agree it stays in my memory for a very good reason. I had just turned thirteen when I caught this fish which seems to be quite old to try fly fishing but there were no anglers in my family so I had to find the inspiration and drive from within. The venue was the river Don at Kintore, Aberdeenshire. Those of you who know the Don will be aware the river is mainly a series of slow, deep loops on that beat. It is not classic fly water. Funnily enough, I can only recall fishing Kintore on a few occasions in total as I quickly found that the Inverurie club waters just upstream offered much better fly water. Anyway, on this particular late spring day I was wandering the high banks searching for trout, my solitary fly box poorly stocked with only a handful of wet flies.

the Don

I recall the conditions were good with a damp, dull day and no wind to speak of to hamper my inept casting. These days I would have tried the deeply sunk nymph as there were no fish rising during the morning. But back them I knew nothing of nymphs and certainly did not possess any weighted patterns. Fishing industriously all morning brought no success and by lunchtime I was fishless. A spot in the grass beside some trees on the edge of the river was the ideal place to eat my lunch. The couple of sandwiches, wrapped in tin foil and coffee from a small thermos flask tasted wonderful in the fresh air, as they always do. It was while I was munching on the slightly soggy tomato and white bread combination that I saw it. A trout rose in the middle of the river. Non-anglers will never understand the thrill of seeing a fish showing. Only we anglers, and especially fly fishers, know that tingle of excitement when you see a fish break the surface. The day is instantly transformed into one of opportunity. Excitement rose and the flask was packed away in the old brown fishing bag with undue haste.

Bridge over the Don in Kintore. The run I am talking about is about half a mile below this bridge

The next 3 hours was an education for me. The books I was avidly reading at home had explained the life cycle of flies and here, right in front of me, a hatch was taking place ( years later and I can reflect the trout were almost certainly feeding on Large Dark Olives despite the sprinkling of March Browns which were also hatching that day). It was not a big hatch, more of a steady trickle of duns but the trout rose steadily along a short section of shallower water below the trees. Although the water was shallower than the pool above it was still too deep for me in my wellingtons. Stuck on the bank I found it hard to cast and control the fly (mending a line was completely unknown to me). So the trout rose and I cast again and again without so much as a pull from the fish. I stuck doggedly to my task, flicking out the line across the current and letting the fly swing across and below me. Different flies were tried, each one as useless as the last.

The take when it came was electrifying. A sharp tug, a splash, the line in my hand pulled out a few feet then that dreaded slackness as the fish threw the hook. I couldn’t believe it! After all my efforts the trout had simply fallen off. Now I know that the ratio of fish hooked to landed when swinging flies down and across is not good and I expect to lose a good percentage of trout when fishing like this but back then to lose my hard earned prize in that way was nothing short of a disaster. I wound in, not sure what to do next. OK, check the hook in case it is damaged. No, nothing wrong with the hook of the size 14 Coch-y-Bondhu. I tugged the leader to make sure my knots were OK. Looking around there seemed to be fewer trout rising now, maybe my only chance had come and gone? I started casting again, my mind racing still about what I had done wrong. I was still deep in this maze of self-examination when the line tightened again. This fish was well below me in fast water so it felt much bigger than it actually was but after a spirited fight I scooped it up in my cheap folding net. I had caught my first trout on a fly! Today that small trout would be admired and safely returned to the stream but back then there were no thoughts of C&R. My previously unused priest lost its virginity and the fish was wrapped in a plastic bag. By the time I had attended to all these details the rise had all but petered out and I stopped fishing after another blank half hour.

That unfortunate trout was a turning point I guess. It proved to me I could catch trout on the fly and the feelings of that day have stayed with me over a long life. Today, an afternoon surrounded by rising trout and only a solitary half pounder to show for my efforts would be a poor return for me. I would have nymphed in the morning and been pretty confident I would catch a few before the rise got going. Then a switch, probably to the dry fly, should yield some more action. I would be working on leader set up, methods and pattern selection and, most importantly of all, watching what was happening around me in terms of the hatch, where individual fish were lying and how to best attack each lie. In other words I have learned so much over the years since that 10 incher grabbed my fly a lifetime ago. But for all of that I will never again experience the utter thrill of my first trout on the fly.

The road bridge which marks the lower limit of the Upper Parkhill beat

Everyone remembers their first salmon. The capture of his/her first Atlantic salmon is perhaps the ultimate experience for any angler. Here is how mine came about.

I was not even supposed to be there that day. April 5th, 1974 was a day when 3 of us regular fishing buddies were going to fish a small dam. We used to set out rods with worms ledgered on the bottom while we fly fished. There was a small feeder burn too which held some impressive trout but these were hard tempt. Trout, Perch and eels were the targets. Plans had be laid during the week at school and I was all set for an enjoyable day with the lads. Then on Friday two other fishing mates suggested we head for the Upper Parkhill beat of the river Don instead. This was (and indeed still is) Aberdeen & District Angling Association water and I was a proud member. Alan and Micky suggested we try for the large trout in the river there and I was swayed by their argument that we would catch bigger trout in the Don than in the wee loch. I switched my plans, little knowing how dramatic this would turn out to be.

Rendezvous was early the next morning and we three fairly bristled with rods and gear when we met up at my house on the council estate. At that time I was reading a lot about salmon fishing, especially those written by Ogilsby and  Faulkus. I didn’t own a salmon fly rod but I had a spinning rod which looked like it could handle a salmon if it came to a push. So I set off that day with my head full of images of wooden devon minnows spinning over the heads of springers and some heavier than normal line on my reel.

It was one of those lovely spring days that seem to have been so common in my youth. The country bus had dropped us off in Dyce and we three proceeded to tramp out to the river where it flowed strongly under Parkhill bridge. The ‘Lawson’s of Dyce’ bacon factory was still in full operation in those days and the stink of blood and guts hung over the lower pools which we quickly passed by. I recall there used to be an open drain which flowed from the factory into the river and it regularly ran red with blood. Changed days! Once we were past that abomination the countryside opened up in front of us. Springtime in Aberdeenshire is lovely. That day was warm and cloudy with the air full of the scents of the wild flowers along the banks and hedgerows. We fished our way up the river, the three of us spread out trying different methods and covering the well known trout lies without any particular success. A couple of very small trout fell to the fly but of their larger brethren there was no sign.

Late morning found the three amigos at the neck of Coquers pool. A wonderful place, this long, deep pool gave me many memorable experiences over the years. Some years later it would give up my then largest brown trout one June evening, a whopper of 2pound 10 ounces. On another pitch black night I hooked something which although light seemed to fight in a very odd way after taking the fly just as it was hitting the water. I wound ‘it’ in and reaching down the leader in the stygian blackness I encountered something with skin and fur! I dropped it and stood, shaking in my boots trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Whatever it was it had taken to the air above my head so I reasoned it was a bat. Sure enough, when I had raised the courage to pull it in again there was a tiny bat which had been hooked though the skin on its wing. He was quickly released without further harm but I had had enough and packed up there and then. It was a mercifully short walk through the blackness back to where my bike was parked.

My old A.D.A.A. permits

But back to the 5th of April……………. I set up my spinning rod and tied on a two-inch brown and gold wooden minnow, sure that Ogilsby and co. would be in full approval of my choice. I started casting, throwing the minnow squarely across the river and allowing it to swing back towards my bank before winding it back in again. One step downstream then cast again. The other lads were above me and I could hear some high-jinks going on up there. The quiet morning had sapped their enthusiasm but I was concentrating hard now. Cast, hold the rod high, follow the bait round in an arc, feel for the bottom, wind in quickly at the end of the cast. Repeat. The blackbirds were in full voice, the burnished yellow of the gorse flowers on the far bank shone in a lemon blaze. Cast again, and again. Then it happened.

In my experience salmon taking a devon minnow seem to just ‘appear’ on the end of the line, there is no definable take as such. That is exactly what happened on that day. The line went tight and a heavy, slow pull drew some line from the reel. FISH!!!!! I screamed and the other two came rushing down to me. A stream of advice was now directed at me. ‘Don’t give him line’. ‘Get downstream of him’. ‘That’s jist a big troot’ said Alan but I knew better. ‘Nope, this a salmon but it will probably be a kelt’. In my heart I was praying it would be a fresh fish but I was trying not to get my hopes up. The fish was moving up and down for a few minutes, keeping his distance from the bank. Thinking I had to do something positive I applied a bit more pressure. This had two distinct effects. Firstly the salmon surfaced and rolled in full view of three awestruck teenagers. ‘Wow’ (or unprintable works to that effect). Secondly, my cheap fixed spool reel made a very unpleasant grinding / screeching sort of a noise. It quickly became obvious that the drag was no longer functioning. There is a fine line between excitement and panic and I was now astride that line!

I am guessing the fight lasted around 15 minutes but it felt like a lifetime to me. The fish made a strong charge up river at one point and I had to franticly wind the reel backwards to give him line. He didn’t jump but there were some rolls on the surface. I gradually gained line and got the fish within a few feet of the bank, at which point another problem came to mind – none of us had a net big enough to accommodate a salmon. Micky flourished a triangular trout net but it was obvious to us all there was no way the mighty salmon was going to fit in those meshes. The fish caught sight of us and turned away, swimming hard for the deep water further out. This put an alarming bend in the rod and I was slow to react before winding backwards once again. I knew I was lucky to get away with that but my slow reactions would have dire consequences soon enough.

There were floating weeds for about 4 or 5 feet out from the bank, meaning I would have to drag the salmon upon to the top of the weeds before I could grab it, hopefully by the tail. More minutes of too-and-fro pulling passed until I judged the fish was tired and I could risk the tricky manouver of sliding high on to the top of the weeds. More advice from the audience – ‘get his head up’, ‘dinae gee him slack’ and other solid suggestions delivered in broad Doric filled the moist air. As he circled once more I applied additional pressure and up came the salmons head and he slid gracefully on to the green weeds. I kept the pressure on until…………….the hooks pulled clean out. What followed can only be described as a moment of madness. In one fluid motion I hurled the rod over my shoulder and leapt into the river. I has no idea how deep the water was under the floating weedbed, it could have been 10 feet for all I knew. I threw my arms around the fish, clasping it to me as tight as I could. Meanwhile, the lads grabbed at me, catching hold of my arms/shoulders and dragging me and my prize back to the bank. I had come to close to disaster to take any more risks so, regaining my feet I stumbled to the top of the steep bank and into the edge of the field. The fish was indeed a fresh springer. No lice, but looking back it was a fish that had been in the river for maybe a couple of weeks. He was dispatched and endlessly admired by the three of us. I was soaked to the skin and had to remove my waders along with most of my clothes so they could dry off in the gentle breeze. It was then, and remains to this day, one of my happiest memories of a long angling life.

Interestingly, not long after I landed that fish an elderly angler came down the river and stopped to talk to us when he saw we had been successful. He questioned me closely as to where exactly I had hooked the fish. He explained that salmon sometimes travel in pairs or in small schools and there was a very good chance another fish could be caught from the same lie. He then proceeded to demonstrate this in the most emphatic way by landing an eight pounder from exactly the same spot!

I did not put a line in the water for the rest of that day. Anything else would have been an anti-climax. The journey home on the country bus must have been a sight to see, three excited teenagers, me only half dressed as most of my clothes were still wet and in my bag, and a fat silver salmon on my lap. There were pats on the back from my parents when I came through the door with that fine fish. These were pre-mobile phone days and only one photograph was taken with a very sheepish looking me holding the fish very badly so you can’t make it out very clearly. My spring balance showed it was a ten pounder despite me being convinced it weighed much more. Looking at the photo now it looks more like eight than ten pounder but I will just have to accept what those dodgy cheap scales told me. A ten pounder it will always remain!

The fish took my devon just off the end of the fence on the right of this photo

Some anglers are lucky enough to catch their first salmon on a wisp of a fly on some classic beat but mine fell for a lowly devon on association water. I don’t mind and in fact I take a certain pride in landing a fish in that way. The cheap spinning reel never did see action again and as soon as I could afford to I bought a lovely ABU Cardinal 77 which went on to serve me well for many years. I can’t recall where the spinning rod went; probably loaned to somebody and never returned. Nowadays, on Saturday afternoons when I am listening to the football my mind often drifts back to those halcyon days of my youth. First fish are special to all of us anglers.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Watson’s Fancy

A few small spaces remain to be filled in the fly boxes and I made a couple of big Waton’s fancy this afternoon and the heavy mist turned the garden a silvery mossy colour outside the window.

The Watson is not a fly I have caught a huge number of fish on but I find it seems to be attractive to larger trout. I used to fish them tied on size 12 or 14 hooks early in the season for brownies but these days I prefer them in much bigger sizes for sea trout and even salmon. I’m thinking here of dark days after a summer spate, high water and grilse running hard. A Watson on the tail and something brighter on the dropper above it have been a winning combination for me over the years. For this job I like to use a size 6 or 8 hook.

Jungle cock eyes, these are indispensable for the Watson’s fancy

This is an easy fly to tie once you have mastered wet fly wings. In smaller sizes the Jungle Cock cheeks can be a bit fiddly but apart from that this is a good pattern for beginners to cut their teeth on.

Proportions are important to make the fly look ‘right’

Only a few small gaps to fill now and I’ll be ready for the new season.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

More Dabblers

I’ve been bust at the vice again and the fly boxes are filling up nicely now. For me, Saturday afternoons are my preferred time to tuck myself away with the radio on, happily snipping and whipping away. Steam rising lazily from my umpteenth mug of coffee while the room around me gradually fills with half used packets of feathers and reels of silk as I swap from pattern to pattern. Then an all mighty tidy up at the end of the session to restore a degree order once again. There are often a small pile of scraps of paper on the bench beside me, hastily devised patterns which popped into me head and I noted down on whatever was handy at the time. Lately I have been churning out Dabbler patterns. Some have been your bog-standard clarets and golden olives but I’ve also created some new ones too.

This handsome fly is a variation on the standard silver dabbler. Simply add a Glo-drite no.4 tag under the tail and use a badger hackle dyed green-olive instead of the usual red game. This fly has caught me plenty of fish in the past.

Here’s one I guess you could call a rhubarb and custard dabbler. Untried as yet, I have high hopes for it on Lough Mask. Yellow body and hackle with a blood red hen hackle wound in front of the wing, there is more than a hint of the Mayo Bumble about this one. It should work as a pulling fly when the trout are on the daphnia in the deeps on Lough Mask.

This bright dabbler looks to be a bit of a long shot to me but I guess you never know until you try it. Flat silver tinsel or Opal Mirage for the body and a teal blue dyed grizzle hackle under the cloak combine with a red tail to give a fry imitation look to it. It will either blank or give me the biggest trout of the season!

Why am I tying so many dabblers right now? There just seemed to be so many gaps in that part of the fly box is the only answer. I have not been doing much in the way of lough fly fishing for a few seasons now and as a result there has been a lack of focus on my part on what there is in there. I am forever handing my fly boxes around to others that I am fishing with and letting them help themselves to whatever takes their fancy. This of course leads to popular or interesting patterns disappearing, which is fine by me. I like to hear other anglers are catching fish on my flies.

I’ll need to address some major gaps in the lough dry fly box next. I have neglected this box too and there seems to be a lot of very old flies in there which need to be cleared out and new patterns added. Wulff’s in particular are conspicious by their absence.

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Fishing in Ireland, Pike, salmon fishing, trolling, trout fishing, wetfly

2019

With Christmas behind us now and the old year only hours left to run my thoughts are firmly fixed on the 2019 season. What will it bring? This used to be a time of mounting excitement but the collapse of fish stocks in and around Ireland mean there is more trepidation rather than anticipation these days.

A drift on Beltra

Looking back over many years, my angling year fitted into neat sections with the focus on wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon from February right through until the end of September. Only when the game fishing ended would I make any concerted effort to go sea fishing and piking was something I only did once a year. How things have changed! Lack of water early in the season reduced the rivers to a trickle of cold water and the trout went into hiding. Fly life was pretty much non-existent, so the joys of fishing a hatch of duns or a fall of spinners never materialise these days. Salmon too have become scarce with even the once prolific runs of summer grilse a now distant memory.

The Ridge pool on the Moy

Much as I try, it is hard to be optimistic about salmon fishing in 2019. Salmon fishers are used to disappointment, it’s part of our DNA. Long hours on the water without so much a tug on the line are the norm and we all accept this as part and parcel of our chosen sport. Dwindling stocks have turned the empty hours into empty weeks, months and seasons for most of us now. I know many good fishers who put in the hard hours over the past couple of seasons but failed to even hook a fish, let alone land one. Why should 2019 be any better when nothing has been done to help the salmon? There are more fish farms with all their pollution and sea lice. Industrial fishing continues unchecked, wiping out the food sources for the fish. Changing weather patterns seem to be having a detrimental effect of the fish and cycle of high/low water has been replaced with flood/drought. I fear another poor salmon season is about to start. Let’s hope I am wrong.

I’m hoping for more like this next season!

The long, painful drought of last spring and summer, combined with a near total lack of fly life ruined my trouting season on the rivers. I need to be more flexible this coming year, look for new venues and try new methods to winkle out the odd fish. So much will depend on the weather of course but the loss of natural flies means the trout must be feeding on other food forms such as small fish and crustaceans.

On the loughs I am planning on doing more trolling and have geared up accordingly. Not my favourite pastime by any means but when faced with otherwise hopeless conditions I needed to have a ‘plan B’.

I am also thinking about doing more Pike fishing if the trout and salmon are a wash out again. This will be a stretch for me as I have never really enjoyed Pike angling but I suppose any fishing is better than none at all. Again, I have invested in a range of lures and will give them a swim when the water warms up sufficiently.

So as this years ebbs away I still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. I hope the same applies to each of you who have taken the time to read some of my ramblings on this blog. See you all next year!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Bloody Dabbler

On holiday now so I am busy tying flies for the upcoming season. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head and one of them took shape this morning in the form of a Bloody Dabbler. This is loosely based on the Bloody Butcher, a great old pattern which used to work for me in either the standard feather winged form or busked on a longshank 8 and fished off fast sinker at night for sea trout.

I made the body of the fly from flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with fine oval silver and a palmered hen hackle. This hackle came from a hen cape I dyed flourescent scarlet. Tails of cock pheasant, a cloak of bronze mallard and a pair of jungle cock cheeks were added and the head was formed from the fire orange tying silk. I have high hopes this one will work when the pin fry are on the go in June/July.

I have been reading some ideas from Rob Denson and in particular his use of hen hackles for palmering dabblers and bumbles. This gives a very different look to these flies and I like the idea they will move better in the water than our normal stiff cock hackles.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Western Lakes Dabbler

Here is a dabbler pattern I created some years ago to use during the mayfly hatch on Lough Carra. It’s proved to be a consistent killer and has taken trout from the other lakes too, so I can vouch for its effectiveness.

A calm start to a day on Lough Carra

I used to keep a boat at Moorehall on Lough Carra and enjoyed some great fishing on that lovely water but these days the fishing on Carra has deteriorated to the point where I no longer leave a boat there. It’s easy for me to get a loan of a boat on any of the local lakes so I fish Carra occasionally these days when I hear the trout are rising. 

Carra has long been famous as a lake with a massive hatch of mayfly. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer mayfly each season now but the fish still respond to a well fished artificial. I prefer Carra on a day of big winds when large waves roll the length of the lake. Big winds seem to stir the bigger trout in my experience. This pattern was designed to be fished in just such conditions.

Tying silk: brown

Hook: heavy wet fly, size 8

Tails: Cock Pheasant tail fibres, about half-a-dozen

Rib: thick brown silk. I use rod whipping silk which has a nice colour and is very strong.

Body: natural seals fur

Body Hackle: a dark red game cock hackle, palmered

Shoulder hackle: a grey partridge dyed golden olive or yellow

Cloak: well marked bronze mallard tied all round

As you can see, this is a simple dabbler style pattern and it is easy to tie. To my eye the natural seals fur is an excellent match to the ivory coloured body of the naturals. The trout certainly approve and it has been a very consistent pattern over the 20 odd years I and my friends have been using it.

The natural fur
Heavy rod wrapping thread for the rib
Tapered dubbed body

I recommend that you fish this fly as part of a three fly team. It has caught me trout in all positions on the leader but if pressed I would put it on the tail in preference to the droppers. Many times I have boated trout on a wide range of patterns on the same drift, so exact copies are not usually required in a big wave. The secret is to find the fish where they are feeding and this is not always easy. Experience plays a large part in finding the trout but you cover a lot of water in a big wind so keep flogging away safe in the knowledge you are going to cover fish somewhere on your drifts.

The only drawback with this pattern is the weakness of the pheasant tail fibres. These break off easily and the resulting tail-less fly is not effective. Try replacing the pheasant tail fibres with some moose main hair – it is much tougher and longer lasting.

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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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