September on the western lakes can be an enigma, days when the trout seem to be suicidal are tempered with ones when they fail to respond in what appear to be perfect conditions. Years ago we could look forward to the last late hatches of olives in some bays and of course a fall of daddies or hoppers if there was a wind. The collapse of insect populations means it is unlikely we get those opportunities now. Undeterred, a day on Conn beckoned, plans were laid and tackle dusted down once more time.
The summer was very quiet on Conn this year. Not much action meant local anglers stayed away while visitor numbers were curtailed due to Covid. Two periods of hot, bright weather drove water levels down and made for next to impossible angling conditions. So here we are in September with only a scant few days left of the trout season. Light winds were forecast for the day ahead, sapping my confidence before even setting off in the morning.
I would not be fishing today, instead I would ghillie for two good anglers. John and Bob have fished Conn for years and today I was on the oars as they tried for a late season trout or two. We met up at Gillaroo Bay which was busier than usual as there was a competition on and anglers were all preparing to go out. The fellas arrived and it was great to see them both again so there was a bit of catching up to be done as we loaded the boat.
The wind was coming out of the south, a good direction for Conn but it meant my initial plan to fish the Colman Shallows had to be changed. With only a light breeze the shallows, which lie in the lee of the land, would be too calm so instead I headed up to Massbrooke and we set up on the drift 80 yards out in a nice wave but driving rain. Wet flies were the order of the day and the lads began short lining in good style. I worked the oar, sometimes just to keep the line but also to manoeuvre around shallows and rocks. The forecast of light winds was incorrect, the actually wind rose and fell throughout the day and was quite strong in the afternoon.
The first couple of drifts were fishless but we saw a few trout rocketing out of the water. This behaviour is not well understood and various theories have been put forward about it. Shaking parasites, daphnia feeding, aggressive behaviour as spawning approaches – these and many other causes are all possibilities. Today though I figured the trout might still be chasing fry in the shallows so I tied on some tinsel bodied patterns for the lads. Soon John’s rod bent into a normal sized Conn brownie. It had taken the Pearly Invicta dressed on a size 12 hook. We fished on and John repeated the trick with a lovely butter-yellow trout, also on the Invicta. Bob decided to try and pull a trout up to a dry fly so he changed over. All this time the rain came and went but it had been a very wet morning and we were pretty damp already. The wind, which had been light to start with, had picked up and we now had a good wave of a couple of feet. I floated the idea of heading back down to the Colman Shallows and so we set off in a flurry of spray, crashing through the waves as we ploughed south and set up on a nice drift at the shallows.
The shallows are a popular drift and being so easily accessible from Gillaroo bay they receive a lot of attention. Today we drifted from the big island all the way to the western pins off the little island. This is perfect trout country with rocks and shallow water under the keel all the way. The fish were uncooperative though and by now it was well after 1pm so we called it time for lunch.
The twigs I rustled up for the kettle were damp (understatement – they were soaking wet) and it took a while to get the old Kelly fired up but we got there eventually and enjoyed the simple pleasure of a hot drink and a bite to eat while stretching our legs on the shore. Some visiting anglers find the Irish obsession with stopping for lunch a waste of good fishing time but in fact it is an integral part of lough fishing. Chatting over a cuppa amid the scenery of the Irish countryside is one of life’s great joys and it gives you a chance to unwind after the high levels of concentration when fishing. On days when the fishing is good, lunch can be prepared and consumed fairly quickly but on slow days the break is a much more leisurely affair. Thankfully, today the rain had eased off and we ate in comparative dryness. The wind fell away again as we ate so once again we took off for Massbrooke once lunch was over. Bob’s 8hp Tohatsu made short work of the trip. I’m not familiar with these engines but it ran faultlessly and they seem to be a strong motor. With a good wave up the lake I convinced Bob to change back to a team of wets.
The rain began to fall heavily just as we set up on the first drift after lunch. I dislike fishing in heavy rain simply because in all my years of angling I have never experienced good fishing in a downpour. In fairness to both anglers they stuck manfully to the cause, casting rhythmically, steady retrieves, clean lift-offs and no tangles despite the encroaching cold and wetness in their arms. John struck into his third trout of the day, a slightly smaller lad this time who once again had taken the pearly tail fly.
We had only drifted a few yards more when not one but two salmon showed in front of the boat. We had seen a few salmon pitching in the distance before but these fish were quite close so I rowed quickly over so the lads could cover them. The fish refused to come up again and we drifted harmlessly over the lies. I tied on a largish Green Peter to Johns cast and Bob did the same with his leader in case we came upon some more salar. It was not to be though and the last fish in the boat today was a small brownie for Bob which took that old reliable, a small Bibio on the dropper.
We called it a day around 5pm, steaming back though choppy waters and arriving back in the bay wet to the skin. Any day afloat on an Irish lough is a good day and it was a pleasure to be out with two good anglers who appreciate the beauty and ever changing moods of lough Conn. The catch was somewhat disappointing in what were essentially good fishing conditions. Once again, it was noticeable there was no fly life on the lough at all. We did not see a single caddis, mayfly or midge on the water or in the air. This has been the case all summer and it is deeply concerning that insect populations appear to be collapsing.
September is flying past us and the end of the season is almost here. Hard to believe the 2021 trout and salmon season ends in a few days, it feels like we have only just got going.
Antrim occupies that far north eastern corner of the island of Ireland, an ancient kingdom with strong traditional links to my home country of Scotland. Indeed, I think I am right in saying there are but 12 scant miles of salt water at the closest point between the two countries. I recall being on holiday on the Scottish island of Islay many years ago, looking out from Port Ellen on a beautiful summer’s day and being amazed how clearly I could see Antrim on the horizon. A countryside of rugged coasts, hill farms and small towns, it has become famous as a result of it being some of the locations used in GoT. It was not dragons I would be searching for but a few much smaller and hopefully more obliging scaly creatures.
The northern part of Belfast city is in Antrim. The city sprawls across the lowlands on either side of the river Lagan with co. Down to the south and co. Antrim to the north. The river widens into a large bay and towns line both sides. Behind Carrickfergus on the Antrim side there are water supply reservoirs, some of which have been stocked with trout. Perhaps one of these could be a suitable venue? That was certainly my initial plan but I started reading up on trout fishing in Antrim and was surprised by just how much of it there is. Antrim’s rivers and loughs cater for a large and enthusiastic group of anglers who live in and around the county. I mulled the various options over but really found it hard to make a firm decision. In the end I hedged my bets in a quite unique way.
Up in the hills of northern Antrim there sits a lough called Dungonnell. It has been formed by a dam and holds some wild brown trout. This would be one of my target venues for the morning, up in the solitude of the glens with just the sheep and calling curlews for company. Hill lough trout are usually small creatures but fishing in lonely spots has a certain attraction for me. Having said that, I read that trout up to 5 pounds have been caught in this lough.
For me this was going to be one of the longest journeys in my 32 project. Being perfectly honest, I have been putting this one on ‘the long finger’ for most of this year, always finding an excuse not to tackle it. This was solely based on the distance I would have to drive there and back. It would entail a very long day with considerably more time spent driving than actually fishing. That in turn meant less time to find fish and figure out how to catch one or two. Tiredness was obviously going to be a factor on the day as well.
Initially planned for Tuesday, I felt ill that morning so postponed the trip 24 hours. The idea of a very long day behind the wheel when not feeling your best did not appeal so I drank plenty of fluids, got some rest and gathered my strength for the ‘morrow. Wednesday arrived, cloaked in grey and cool for the time of year. Feeling much improved, the bits and bobs required for the day were assembled and loaded in the half light. An early start was required as the trip to Dungonnell would take well over 4 hours behind the wheel. Through the never ending roadworks in Sligo just after 7 am, Enniskillen at 8 and then on to Dungannon. From there it was on to the long and winding road via flag bedecked Cookstown and Magherafelt to Toome. As I crossed the river Bann and an idea struck me, how about a few minutes fishing the Toome canal? This would only be a slight diversion and it was a piece of water I had heard of but never fished. I knew it was a famous pike fishery but I recalled reading somewhere it had roach, perch and bream in there too. I took an exit at the next roundabout and found a cark park right beside the canal. Quickly setting up a light spinning rod, I strolled along the path to a set of locks and was fishing a small jig within minutes. The water was very scummy further down but pretty clear at the locks. Some kids on paddleboards were having fun further up but they soon dropped down to close where I was fishing. Sure enough, the paddleboards were just the start and the jumping in to the water plus general mayhem quickly ensued. Changing to a float set up made not a whit of difference. I decamped to the canal above the locks for some peace and got plenty of it – not a bite did the float register. Loose feeding maggots failed to improve the situation and I finally admitted defeat. Returning to the car I was alarmed to find I had wasted two whole hours for no return. Tactically, my decision to try Toome had been a disaster. What would the rest of the day hold?
There is a ‘B’ road which leads from Toome to Ballymena via some twists and turns. From there, the A43 led me to the hamlet of Cargan then on to lesser roads until finally the dam hove into view. A small car park at the dam provided a safe spot to leave the car. The weather had deteriorated as I headed north and a thick mist cloaked the hills as I pulled up. Hungry, I indulged in a sandwich washed down with some coffee as the world turned grey and damp outside. Just as I finished my lunch the mist cleared slightly, time to crack on! Waterproof jacket, waistcoat and boots were donned, then I set up the old rod and reel with a peach line. A small daddy on the top, a size 14 Claret Bumble in the middle and a green-tailed Kate on the end.
I like to fish close in on hill loughs. They often deepen quite quickly as so the trout can usually be found near the edges. A slow and quiet approach is necessary though so as not to spook them. Short casts, show it to them then whip it away. Starting near the dam, I worked my way along the western shoreline with the wind coming over my right shoulder. It was immediately obvious the peach line I had taken to be a floater was in fact a sinker. No matter, I would fish just as happily with the wet line. The bank was rough so a neat ‘one step per cast’ fishing was not really feasible and instead I hopped from one rock or tussock to another, casting as wind and stance allowed. This is a lovely way to fish for trout, you have to concentrate on so many different factors to get it right.
Soon there was a sharp tug and a swirl but that trout did not stick. I cursed, took another step and cast again. Not long after that another fish tweaked one of the flies but he too was too quick for me. The mist returned. Flicking the flies out beyond an underwater rock brought an immediate response but no firm hook hold. I worked my way along the bank for perhaps two hundred yards, rising a dozen or more trout and not one of them did I manage to hook. By now it was raining properly and so I returned to the car. Time to get the thinking cap on!
I had noticed that every rise to my flies had happened within the first couple of pulls of my retrieve, and after that the fish had shown no interest. The sinking line had to go, I was convinced the trout wanted a fly high in the water. A search in the reel case soon produced a yellow floater the right size and in a few minutes I had a new leader tied on too. Next the flies came under scrutiny. The rises I had been able to see all seemed to be at the middle or tail positions. Maybe the claret bumble was a bit too small? I put a size 12 version in the middle of the new leader. The green-tailed Kate made way for a Bibio on the tail. Perhaps the green tail was too gaudy? What about the bob fly though? Scanning the contents of the box my eyes fell on a row of my much loved deer hair caddis. Grey ones, green bodied ones, black ones with a wee silver tip – all were good patterns but somehow not quite what I wanted today. Then I spotted it, a fiery brown DH caddis on a size 14 hook – perfect! Experienced anglers reading this will know that feeling you get sometimes, a knowing this fly is going to work today. Carefully I tied the little caddis fly on to the top dropper. The rain had eased a little again so I ventured back to the waters edge.
Casting the old yellow line was a joy, it fairly sailed out across wind and wave. Working my way along the same stretch of rocky as before but the water felt lifeless and of trout there was no sign. I plugged away, timing my casts to coincide with lulls in the gusty wind. A splash and sharp tug broke the rhythm of the casts, this one was hooked. It fought with dash and verve for a small trout but he came to hand without any drama and I had my prize, an Antrim brownie. Of course the Fiery Brown DH caddis nestled in the corner of his mouth. Dark, as most hill lough fish are, he was soon back in his watery abode none the worse for his mistake. The fish was no sooner released when the heavens opened and I made a bolt for the car. Waiting for a while, in the end I decided to change venue again so I packed up, happy with my solitary success.
Now for a trek along the byroads of northern Ireland and a complete change of angling experiences again. I was headed for the short Movanagher canal near the village of Kilrea to do a bit of float fishing. Here the River Bann is blocked by a weir and to allow boats to navigate it a canal was dug along the right bank and fitted with a set of lock gates. The coarse fish greatly appreciated this section of quiet flowing water and promptly took up residence. Roach, pike, perch and bream allegedly inhabit the canal now and it is a popular venue for matches. I thought that some maggots might tempt one or two of them so I set off down narrow roads bereft of signposts. I had a vague idea of where I was going but to be honest there was a lot of guesswork involved as I crawled along narrow country roads hemmed in by hedges and lacking in signs. One junction completely flummoxed me but I found an alternative road. It took me an hour but I finally made it to my destination.
After parking up I surveyed the canal and decided on one of the old concrete pegs as my swim for the remainder of the afternoon. Not that there is much to pick between them all but this one, number 4 as it turns out, would do for me. This being Northern Ireland I was only allowed to use one rod when coarse fishing so I had brought along the 12 foot rod and a small amount of coarse gear. Plumbing up I found the water was about ten feet deep in the middle. Different venues have different rules about the use of groundbait here in the north but you are allowed to use it on this wee canal. I mixed some up and tossed in three balls to try and attract in some fish then cast out my crystal waggler float with a pair of red maggots on a size 14 hook. The maggots which were left over from my last coarse fishing outing the previous week and had come from the bait fridge at home were turning to casters so I added them to the ground bait. I waited. In fact, I waited for the better part of an hour before anything happened.
Trickling in a steady stream of loose fed maggots is a favorite tactic of mine and today was no different. 6 or 8 maggots chucked in every second cast feels about right to me and I feel sure this helped to pull a few perch into the swim. My surroundings were lovely and the old concrete fishing pegs provided comfortable lodgings. After the rough terrain and soggy conditions of Dungonnell it felt like pure luxury to have a seat and a firm, level footing. The contrasts between the two angling genres can be stark sometimes but both fly and float exert a huge appeal on me. What is it they say? ‘A change is as good as a rest’. I’ll drink to that. Finally, the crystal gave a wobble then dived and I was in. A smallish perch was quickly reeled in, unhooked and released. More followed in a steady procession. The first one was small but the were some 8 ounce ones too. Bites varied between subtle little dips of the float to instant disappearances or sideways pulls. A tally of seven was reached before the sky darkened in the east and the rain came back again. It was half-past-four in the afternoon. Of roach and bream there was no sign and pulling out small perch had lost something of its appeal. It was time to head home again so I packed up and began the long journey west. Traffic was much lighter but but there were still a few late summer tractors on the road and it was nearly nine pm before I turned into the driveway at home in Mayo.
When I got home I mulled over the logistics of the day. I had been driving for a total of ten hours and had fished three venues for a total of five-and-a-half hours. I had driven a total of 675 kilometres, by far the longest journey of the 32 project to date. All for seven small perch and a solitary half pound brownie. BUT (and this is important), I had landed fish in county Antrim. Trying the canal at Toome had proved to be a mistake but that’s fishing and there no guarantees so I accept the blank and move on. Similarly, the trek across country to try and catch fish at Kilrea was a lot of effort for not much return in terms of fish caught but I saw a bit of the countryside and enjoyed fishing that venue. I recall reading somewhere that these canals fish better in high water conditions when the coarse species seek shelter from heavy flows in the main river. On another day I feel sure both canals would fish well. If Dungonnell lough was close to me I would have it haunted! It is a beautiful upland fishery and if the trout are all around the size of the one I landed it would be a great place for someone like me. Instead, it is literally at the other end of the country and as such I will probably never fish it again.
Seventeen down, fifteen to go. Realistically I am not going to complete all 32 counties by the end of this year. I could push it but trying to cram them all in over the next few weeks feels like too much. Many of the remaining ones will involve long distance trips much like Antrim and these are very time consuming. As of now I am thinking of tackling the last three northern counties next, Derry, Tyrone and Down. It was lovely to fish the fly again after a summer of coarse fishing so I think more fluff chucking could be on the cards. That could change as well of course but for now I will take a look at my options in those three counties.
I will buy some little stickers and mark the different lines on my reel spools. Although I have rationalised them into some sort of order I am still guessing when it comes to densities and profiles. That will be a nice little job for me one winter’s evening. Hard to believe we only have 6 weeks of the game angling season left. Where did 2021 go?
The silver daddy is an iconic west of Ireland pattern that can be used for salmon, sea trout or brownies. Of course, this being Ireland there are dozens of variations of the fly and it feels like every tyer has his or her twist on the pattern. The basics of a silver tinsel body and some legs made from knotted pheasant herls are pretty much standard but after that – anything goes! Here are a few different tinsel bodied daddies for you to pick from.
Let’s start with the basic pattern as described in Peter O’Reilly’s wonderful book ‘Irish trout and salmon flies’. The tail is the interesting feature here with a bunch of knotted pheasant tail fibres tied in to stick out of the back of the fly. These add lots of movement and can be further improved with just a couple of strands of krinkle flash in pearl or silver. A flat silver tinsel body, ribbed with oval silver, wings of red game hackle tips and plenty of knotted pheasant tail legs tied all around. Finish off with a red game cock hackle giving it plenty of turns. Some tyers prefer to use short fibred hackles on their daddies but I favour longer ones. I think these add movement to the fly in the water and also give an even more ‘leggy’ appearance.
That is a lot of materials to tie on to a smaller hook so a slimmed down version is easier to tie and looks better on hooks of size 12 and smaller. Omit the tail, tie a silver tinsel body and add the legs but tie them in on top of the hook. A few turns of a red game hackle finishes this pattern. If you want, you can add a short tag of red floss at the end of the body.
The red daddy is a popular pattern on some fisheries but I have to confess I have had little success with it. The only time it works for me is when I add a claret muddler head. The sea trout seem to like this one. The body of the red daddy can be made from either normal red mylar or holographic tinsel, the choice is yours.
Let’s talk about the legs for a minute. The normal pheasant tail herl legs for a daddy pattern are a single strand knotted twice. This is perfect for most flies but on very large hooks they can look a bit ‘thin’ so I use two strands, double knotted on size 6 or 8 flies. Just my personal preference.
I tie a black daddy which has done very well, just substitute black materials on the original pattern but keep the silver body and add a head made from dyed black deer hair spun on muddler style.
I like a blue bodied version too, something akin to the one used on lough Inagh. I use blue tying silk for this one.A blue tinsel body is ribbed with fine silver wire. Wings are ginger cock hackle tips and the hackle is a long fibred red game.
Now for a couple of (so far) untried patterns. I made up these patterns during the lockdown but they have yet to see the water. The first tying is a standard daddy but the body is made from green tinsel. Then there is a pink tinsel bodied one. Both of these flies sport small muddler heads. I like the look of both of these and hope to give them a swim before the end of this season.
Another experimental daddy has an opal tinsel body, black legs and hackle with a prominent head of fluorescent fire orange silk.
From now until the end of the season the silver daddy can be a very useful addition to a wet fly cast in these parts. A windy day, when naturals could be blowing on to the water are the best time to try it but to be honest I have caught fish on a silver daddy in most conditions.
The signs went up three years ago. Ugly, threatening signs plastered on gates and fences, warnings in red letters. Details of how you would be arrested if you dared to walk by this stretch of the river as it was now under new ownership. Of course, this was the prime stretch of the river and now it was out of bounds to me. I let it be and fished elsewhere but it rankled me that my harmless pursuit was now illegal. It appeared that the old building in the field and its grounds had been purchased and the new owners did not want anyone on their land.
Then, when driving past the gates and fences last summer (during the break in lockdown), I noticed the signs were no longer there. I took a mental note and promised myself I would return in 2021. I drove down there this morning only to find new warning signs have been erected along with miles of barbed wire! I toyed with the idea of hopping the fences anyway but decided against it. I would hate trying to fish while looking over my shoulder all the time. I drove on down to a nice looking stretch which I have fished a couple of times before but without any success.
Access is not easy. There used to be a stile at the bottom of the stretch, plus a very large and steep set of steps leading from the stile on the edge of the lane down to the riverbank 3 metres below. This wooden structure has rotted away and a set of ropes or the agility of a mountain goat are now prerequisites if you want to enter the river there. I walked upstream for a bit and found a place where I could slither down the steep bank between some trees. I commenced operations there amid budding branches, the air thick with bird song.
A pair of spiders on dropper and a weighted PT tied to a 3 pound leader fished off a floating line were my starting point. Changes to dry fly or nymph were all possibilities for the future but for now I would swing the wee soft hackles through the shallow runs. Short roll casts to start with, just flicking out the leader and a foot or two of fly line, searching the water at my feet. It always surprises me how many trout you can catch like this. The pools in this stretch are about 15 yards wide and a few inches deep. In high water it is too fast to fish and at summer levels it is too shallow for anything big, but today the height was just right. To get the flies to fish on the far side of the current I had to throw big mends in the line. Trees on my bank made for challenging castings, judging the right length and allowing for the mend were tricky and kept me on my toes. I worked my way downstream, rolling out the line as best I could but of a trout there was no sign. A few olives were hatching out but the fish showed absolutely no interest in them. Fishing as far down as the old bridge I climbed out to the path and had a think about things.
This stretch looks to be perfect trout water but it does not seem to fish at all. Rather than waste any more time here I decided to try another stretch at Hollymount. Off I went, winding along the narrow roads until I came to where I park for near an old 5 bar gate. What would this piece of water yield?
I fished the bridge pool diligently but without an offer. Olives and some stoneflies were in the air which was encouraging but a nasty, gusting wind was blowing directly upstream, making placing the flies close to the far bank a bit of a challenge. Half way down the next pool I rose a fish but failed to connect. A few paces further on I had a solid take and a 6 incher came to hand. A few casts later a gust of wind whipped my flies into a bush and I snapped off. A new leader and flies were soon tied up and I was back in action, only for the same thing to happen again! I re-tied the leader once more.
The next trout shook the hook but soon I had a second, then a third and a fourth. All the same stamp of trout, between 6 and 9 inches long and in great condition. The size 16 Iron Blue Dun on the top dropper was doing most of the damage and I saw one or two natural Iron Blues on the water. My guess is the trout are feeding on the nymphs as they ascend because I see no natural rises.
More trout are caught, a few threw the hook and some simply pluck at the flies as they swing in the current. I work my way downstream. Part of the reason for going to fish the river today was to test my dodgy right knee. It has never been right since a motorbike accident when I was 20 and since January I have been in a lot of pain with it. I suspect it is a damaged tendon and I have been resting it for months and now I am slowly trying to build up the surrounding muscles. I manage to cover about a mile or so before the pain returns but a bit of massaging works wonders and I carry on.
I have landed 9 trout by now and am working my way slowly down a good run. The line tightens and I bend into a better fish which fights hard before I slip the net under it. A quick photo and back it goes, about 13 inches and a pound or so in weight. The tail of this pool is now partially blocked with a tree which has been felled. There seems to have been a lot of branch trimming, presumably by the IFI. I am not a fan of this kind of thing, I prefer the banks to be left to grow wild.
Three more trout are landed as I reach the limit of where I will fish this afternoon. There is more water further down but I have had a good few hours and there is no need to push on any further. I about-turn and slowly plod across the fields back to where the car is parked. I am tired now, the winter of sitting on a couch watching Netflix followed by 4 months at work sitting at a computer screen/giving PowerPoint presentations have taken their toll on me. Today was about getting some fresh air and catching a few fish so I can head home well satisfied. The little Iron Blue was the star today, taking most of the fish I landed.
The best thing about this assignment I am on just now is that I finish work for the week at 1pm on a Friday. It’s lovely to feel the morning flying by and suddenly it is time to leave and head off for what feels like a long weekend. Yesterday was no different and after a forenoon wrestling with PowerPoint and the aftermath of a particularly trying OH&S audit I departed the site amid a howling gale driving hail showers before it. I dropped the car off for a service and toddled around the local Tesco, picking up some bits for our weekend then walked home in the fresh wind. Only when I finally plonked myself down on the sofa with a coffee did I notice I was still wearing my ear plugs around my neck.
Such lapses in sartorial elegance are part and parcel of growing older. I never bother to look in a mirror these days, it is just too depressing to see the ravages of time writ large upon my face. So a length of string with a blob of foam on each end are not an unusual addition to my attire. These particular ones were orange and as I (belatedly) removed them from around my neck I had an idea……….
If you are new to fishing the mayfly hatch here in Ireland you will be forgiven for thinking we locals all have a colour vision problem. The natural fly ranges in colour from green, through yellow to pale cream. Virtually any inspection of a wet fly angler box of artificials will show we use reds, clarets and, yes, oranges in our mayfly patterns. The bit of ‘string’ on my ear plugs was a deep burnt orange hue which I felt could be used for a new fly.
I like burnt orange as a colour and have used it since I was a teenager in Aberdeen. Then I fished for sea trout in the brackish waters of the lower Dee and Ythan. My favourite fly was a bastardisation of the Dunkeld. I tied it with a wing made of teal instead of bronze mallard and the hackle was not the usual hot orange but a deep, burnt orange instead. My best day with that fly yielded 13 seatrout on the Pot & Ford water run by the ADAA. I have caught brownies here in Ireland on the same pattern too.
I messed around at the vice for a while and in the end I settled for the following tying.
Silk: Fire orange 8/0
Hook: a trusty Kamasan B175, size 10
Hackle 1: French Partridge dyed orange
Hackle 2: Badger cock dyed golden olive
Hackle 3: A large Brown Partridge hackle
Tails: Cock pheasant herls dyed yellow (they look pale olive) with a couple of strands of fine pearl flash
Rib: burnt orange ear plug string or something similar
Body: Pale olive, medium olive and dark olive dubbing either mixed or in three bands from light to dark
If you have read this blog before you will know the order I tie everything and this is a pretty simple fly to make despite all the materials. Leave plenty of space at the neck for all this hackles and don’t wind more than a couple of turns of each feather.
The acid test will of course come when the mayfly is hatching and I am drifting over the rocky shallows of Mask or Conn. There are stirrings that the government here may start to relax the 5km travel limit next month and if that miracle does come to pass I will be able to fish Loughs Conn and Cullin.
This was a fly I dreamt up a couple of seasons ago but due to the pandemic it has not been tried. It should work but I am taking no responsibility if it is a lemon.
I wanted a black dabbler for early season work on lough Conn, something with a bit of bling in it to attract the trout who are notoriously hard to stir in cold water in the lough. Usually it is not until the water warms up in May before the fishing takes off there but the lough is quiet early on in March and April so I like to get out early if possible. This is the time for sinking lines and slow retrieves. Fiery Browns, Silver Dabblers and Bibios are my normal patterns for April but I wanted to ring the changes so I sat ant the vice and came up with this lad.
I used the original Sweeney Todd for rainbows back in Scotland after reading about it is a book by the inventor, the late Bob Church. All black apart from a dash of pink at the throat and a red hackle, it worked alright but I thought the ace of spades was a deadlier pattern. Fished deep for rainbows, it did enough to convince me that the combination of black and pink was a winner.
Like many anglers here I already use a pink-tailed black zulu for salmon. It was something of a cult fly on Carrowmore lake a few years ago and I still use it up there.
To make this fly 8/0 black tying silk is started at the eye of a size 10 heavy wet fly hook. Leave a bit of space at the head before tying in a short fibred black cock hackle and running the tying silk down to the bend. Catch in a tail made from some pheasant tail fibres dyed black, flanked with some pearl flash and a length of oval silver tinsel. Dub some black seals fur on to the silk and make a body to cover two thirds of the hook. Now tie in and wind a piece of fl. pink wool. You can chop and dub it if you prefer. Remove the waste and wind the cock hackle down to the bend in open turns. Bind the hackle in place with the oval silver tinsel, tie in and cut off the tag end. A cloak of bronze mallard finishes off the fly.
The dash of pink just might make the difference on a slow day. I will give it a try if/when we get to go fishing again.
We got some snow here over the past few days. Not a lot of snow, maybe an inch or two but enough to make the roads treacherous and to push gas bills into the stratosphere by keeping the heating on all day. It’s February so we should expect some inclement weather I suppose.
I am making a few flies for Dr. John Connelly today. A wonderful angler and great naturalist, John lives in Pontoon and fishes the loughs around here as often as he can despite his 80 years. One of life’s true gentlemen, I had the pleasure of fishing with him and Derek Woods last year and I promised him then I would make some flies for him. Today seems to be the perfect day for that job.
I started off with my Fiery Brown, just the normal tying but with an added orange hen hackle and jungle cock cheeks.
Then a Katie Bibio which are always a good early season pattern on lough Conn.
A Bumble next, golden olive.
Raymond, that great killer of trout on lough Conn is next.
Green Peter, of course on size 10’s for sedge time.
A teal, Blue and silver in case he is fishing for sea trout…..
Maybe a Yellow Stimulator too, good during the mayfly
I make a few others and chuck in a couple of salmon flies for good measure. John lives right on the shore of Lough Cullin and Conn is well within the dreaded 5km limit of travel so he will be able to get out fishing when he wants. I hope these few flies bring him a trout or two, the good doctor is a great man for winkling a few out!
I am busy topping up my river fly boxes and it has got me thinking about why I habitually tie wings on some patterns and not on others. Do a couple of slips from a starling really make all that difference to a fly? Do the fish even notice if the neatly paired wings are present? In my humble opinion some fly are better catchers when winged while other it seems will tempt the trout in either winged or hackled versions.
Like most fly tyers I hated wings when I was starting out at the vice. They were so fiddly and no matter how much I tried I could never get them right. Different lengths, lop-sided, too wide or too narrow – the list of problems felt endless and just handling the damn things was torture. So most of my earliest creations were spiders or palmers. Gradually though I became better at handling the tricky little slips and could tied a reasonably good wing. It then became a matter of choice if I applied wings or not. Dry flies in particular vexed me, could the fish even see an upright wing from below I mused? Nowadays I suspect they can as they rarely take a fly from precisely below and at any other angle I think they see something of the wing, be that just a vague outline. Honestly, who knows? None of us will ever really know what a fish sees and all of this is pure conjecture.
I’m sitting surrounded by all my fishing gear and listening to some old progressive rock. So let’s think about which patterns benefit from being winged. This is purely my take on some old favourites but you may wildly disagree. Isn’t that one of the joys of fishing, there really is no right and wrong, we all have our own way of doing things.
Wickhams Fancy (and all its wonderful variants) – A definite ‘winged’ from me. I am convinced this great pattern is better with wings but am still none-the-wiser as to why they take it in the first place.
Greenwells Glory – I use both. I love a Greenwell spider on the river during the early months of the year. I also use a Greenwell with woodcock wings and a yellow floss tail on stillwaters where it does great execution.
Black spider vs black Gnat. I prefer a Black Gnat to a Black Spider but please don’t ask me to justify this point of view, it is just something that has grown with me over the years. I still use various black spiders but the gnat with a silver tip is a topper of a fly in my book.
Olive dun / Blue dun / Ginger quill – all winged most of the time. I suspect these patterns are taken for winged duns and as such I like to wing them. I tie blue dun spiders too though just to add confusion!
March Brown – Agh, I have to say I changed tune on this one. I used to prefer the winged one back in Scotland. We used to get hatches of the natural on the Aberdeenshire Don so a size 12 winged MB was a good fly. Here in Ireland we don’t get a hatch on March Browns so the spider version does fine and I am guessing it is taken as a LDO nymph.
Iron Blue – both winged and spider. The hackled lad for early in the day and a change to the winged version if/when the duns start to hatch. I have fished like that since I was a lad and it has caught me a lot of trout over the decades.
Yellow May Dun – Always winged for me
Adams – Sometimes I don’t bother with wings on my Adams dry flies and they catch me loads of trout. But I always carry a few Adams sporting grey poly wings and I love these during a hatch of olives.
Of course I frequently fish both winged and spider flies on the same cast when fishing wets. This covers all the bases. Indeed, I sometimes fish a beaded fly on the tail, a hackled pattern in the middle and a winged fly on the bob. That is a nice set up for searching the water when there is no signs of life.
So how do I sum up all of the above? There is no sane reason for deciding which of my river flies are better with wings, it has just grown organically over the years. I have found a black gnat to be a better fly than the black spider but I have no idea why that should be. By now I suspect that confidence in a pattern may be an important factor. Whatever you have most faith in personally will usually be the best bet.
As an Interim Manager I lead an odd sort of life. I am either buried in work, often far from home, or I am unemployed and dossing about in Castlebar. The contract I am working on right now falls somewhere in between those states as I am working in Westport, just long the road. I get home every evening and even better, the hours I work mean I finish up at 1pm every Friday. So yesterday afternoon I left the old car in to Mick to get a small job done on it and came home to a warm house and an afternoon off. Bliss! Coffee in hand and Rory Gallagher on the turntable, I settled down at the vice to knock up a few flies.
I know I am going over very well worn territory here with this post but spiders are a major part of my river fly fishing armoury and yesterday I was busy at the vice topping up the early season boxes. While they catch fish at any time it is the first couple of months of the season that I rely on them most. Some are copies of naturals like the Iron Blue or the large dark olive while others are more general patterns. Here is what I was tying.
An old reliable, the P&O
I started out with the good old Partridge and Orange. A size 14 hook, orange Pearsall gossamer silk for the body and a fine gold rib. I like a thorax of a couple of turns of peacock herl and a hackle of brown partridge back feather. Very simple but very, very deadly. I have tried them on bigger and small hooks but nothing is as effective as a 14. I see many anglers waxing lyrical about the partridge and yellow but I have caught very few trout on that pattern. Orange is king in my book.
Then I moved on to Plover and Hares Lug. Yellow silk on 12 or 14 hook, hare’s ear body with either a narrow flat gold tinsel rib or fine oval gold and the hackle made from a golden plover feather. I am almost out of golden plover feathers and they are very hard to find these days.
my black spider
Black spiders now. Fl. orange tying silk and a flat holo black tinsel body with a silver wire rib for protection. A turn of a the small blueish feather from the upper side of a Jackdaw’s wing finishes this one off. The orange silk head gives a nice target for the fish.
olive partridge spider
My olive partridge spider was next on the list. As size 14 again and this time olive tying silk body ribbed with fine gold wire. I make a few variations of this pattern by changing the hackle, it can be a natural brown partridge feather or the same feather dyed different shades of olive. For some reason I seem to normally fish this pattern in the middle of the cast.
Whirling Blue Dun Spider
Whirling blue duns. Maybe not used that often these days but I like when olives are hatching out. Tails and hackle are ginger hen and the body is made for moles fur. I use yellow tying silk on a 14 or 16 hook. I tie then in both spider and winged versions, using starling for the wings.
Pheasant Tail (well sort of)
Pheasant tails. Where do you start with this fly, there are hundreds of variations. I like to use crimson tying silk and the body is made from the ubiquitous cock pheasant tail herls, but dyed yellow. the tail which is made from brown partridge fibres. The hackle is the same feather. One for May evenings……
Iron Blue Dun. Darkest Iron blue hackle and tails, crimson silk dubbed with moles fur on a size 16 or 18 hook. All too often I see Iron Blue Duns tied with hackles which are far too pale. When you see the natural on the water you will realise they are nearly black.
My Ginger Partridge is a handy pattern for searching streamy water. A yellow sik body with a fine gold wire rib on a size 14 hook. There are two hackles, one turn each of a brown partridge back feather with a ginger hen in front.
The blue dun I tie is very simple. Yellow silk on a size 16 hook. Heron herl, either natural or dyed olive for the body with a fine gold wire rib to give the herls some protection. A pale blue dun hen hackle at the neck. Of course you can add blae wings.
Red spider. This is one for summer evenings. Usually a size 14 but strangely I have had success with a size 12 too. Red gossamer silk body with a fine gold wire rib and a red game hen hackle. You can add a lime green butt if you like but to be honest I can say that has proved any more effective.
Partridge and hare. Yellow silk, fine flat gold tinsel to rib a body of dubbed hare’s ear fur. A brown partridge hackle to finish. Not a million miles away from a March Brown pattern but we are not blessed with MB’s here in the west of Ireland. A general nymph like spider that does well early on.
Grey dun. Two versions here, the light and dark. Hackle is the same for both, from the knuckle of a coot’s wing. Body is pale straw coloured tying silk for the light version and black silk for the dark one.
Imagine it is a bright April day on an Irish lough, a few high, wispy clouds dot the sky. It is far from warm but there are the first hints of spring in the air and a few Lake Olives are hatching. What do you tie on to the middle of your wet fly leader? Here is an option for you to try in these conditions.
I call this the Opal Olive but I strongly suspect many west of Ireland fly dressers have their own name for it. It looks something like an olive coloured Wickhams fancy I suppose.
I use fl. chartreus tying silk. Starting at the head I catch in a brown olive cock hackle then continue towards the bend of the hook, tying in some tails made of olive cock hackle fibres, some thin silver wire and a piece of opal tinsel. Return the silk to where the hackle is waiting then wind a smooth body with the opal tinsel. Now palmer the brown olive hackle down to the bend in open turns and tie it in with the wire. Rib through the hackle back up to the neck where you tie down the wire. Remove all waste.
The wings can be made from paired slips of starling. I use a different, unobtainable feather for the wings but I doubt if it makes much difference. One day a few years ago one of the cats brought in a very dead mistle thrush. The poor bird did not have a mark on it so I remain to this day convinced the cat simply picked it up off the ground instead of actively catching it. Rather than waste such a beautiful bird I removed and cured the wings and it is slips from the secondary feathers I use on this fly.
Now for a head hackle and for this I use a grey partridge hackle dyed golden olive. Tie it in, make three turns and bind it down before removing the waste. Now form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and varnish.