dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, Nymphs, salmon fishing, trout fishing, wetfly

Leaders

Let’s talk about leaders. When I started fishing the fly for trout this was pretty damn straight forward – you tied an overhand knot on the end of the fly line and looped a 9 foot length of 4 pound breaking strain nylon on to it. Life in general has evolved in a variety of complex ways since those days but leaders have exploded into a mind-bending number of different forms. In contrast, my fishing tends to be very simple so my leaders are similarly easy to construct. I thought you might like to see how I tie up leaders for the various different conditions over here in the far west of Ireland. Bear in mind we only have wild brown trout, a very small population of sea trout and a few Atlantic salmon to target. I will split this information into 4 sections to cover the vast majority of my fly fishing needs.

Maxima, good, honest line at a reasonable price

Trout (lough)

I will start with my my basic leader for wet fly on the lough. Lots of lough anglers, and certainly most of the completion lads, have long ago switched from nylon to fluorocarbon for leader material. The main benefit is the increase in breaking strain for the same diameter and for this reason alone I like to use fluorocarbon for my trout leaders when chasing brownies.

My typical lough style leader will consist of a heavy nylon butt, some 12 inches long, made from 15 pound nylon and attached to a small loop in the end of the fly line with a loop. Blood knotted on to the butt will be another foot of ten pound breaking strain nylon. That couple of feet of heavy nylon stays there and I change the leader itself by blood knotting on new lengths of fluorocarbon, usually 9.5 pound breaking strain Riverge. I make my droppers by cutting the fluorocarbon and then re-joining it using a double blood knot, leaving a long tag end which forms the dropper. I like to have my droppers around 6 inches long. When a leader gets damaged or the droppers become too short I snip off the whole fluorocarbon part and replace it with a new leader.

I am too lazy to make up specific leaders for the dry fly when I am on the boat, I just use a wet fly leader and tie on a pair of dries.

Flay calm – testing times for any type of leader!

Trout (river)

On the river I use a wide range of different set ups. As for the lough set up, my basic principle is to have a heavy butt attached to the end of the fly line with a ‘sacrificial’ length of lower diameter which I cut into each time I change the leader. This saves me messing around with the heavy butt section too often. I have been experimenting with tapered butts for a long time now and while I find them useful for sinking lines for salmon I am less impressed with them on floaters for trout fishing. I have also tried some of the specialist nymphing tapered leaders but I find them too soft for my own preference.

The same butt set up as I use for the loughs (see above) works fine for me, maybe just a few inches shorter is better when I am fishing on small streams or at close quarters. That butt section stays attached to the fly line all the time.

  1. Wet fly leader: six feet of 4 pound nylon with three feet of three pound nylon as a tippet. Droppers made by using the tag ends of double blood knots.
  2. Dry fly: Due to the generally higher air resistance I use six pound nylon for the main body of the leader and blood knot on a tippet of fluorocarbon. Breaking strain will depend on where I am fishing and the likely size of any trout there.
  3. Night time leader: The only leaders I carry which are made up before I go fishing are a couple of heavy (6 pound breaking strain) leaders armed with one dropper. I even have the flies tied on so I don’t have to do this in the dark. These leaders are for summer nights when the fish are chasing sedges. It is just too hard to make up a leader from scratch in the dark so I do this beforehand then simply snip off the old leader and knot the heavy one on.
  4. Nymphing set up: Once again, I like to keep this as simple as possible. I don’t need to use excessively heavy nymphs as I don’t fish very deep and fast water. My main aim is to provide enough thickness and therefore stiffness in the leader to turn over the nymphs on short lines. I resort to straight lengths of fifteen pound fluorocarbon as this gives me the power I require. To step down to the tippet I use about 18 inches of that Riverge 9.5 pound which is always lurking in the dark recesses of my waistcoat pocket. Sounds way too heavy for hooking up with half pound trout? Yes and no would be my answer. You see the bottom of my local rivers are stony and snaggy and hooking the bottom happens far more often than hooking fish, so I have a bit of leeway when I need to pull and tug at the line to retrieve snagged flies.

Salmon (lough)

Things change for me when I make up leaders deliberately for salmon on Beltra. We generally use largish flies on this lough and getting 3 meat hooks to cast properly in a high wind from a drifting boat means a switch back to nylon. I like something in or around 20 pound breaking strain and keep the leader to a maximum total length of 9 feet. I don’t think that salmon are line shy in four foot high waves.

Climax 98 - I use this for making up salmon leaders

Climax 98 – I use this for making up salmon leaders

On waters like Carrowmore lake where we fish much smaller flies and only in light winds I simply use the same leaders that I tie up for trout fishing from 9.5 pound breaking strain Grand Max Revenge.

one that went back

safely in the net, the leader did its job this time

Salmon (river)

On big rivers I stick to only one fly and the big question is do I use a straight through length of nylon about 9 feet long or do I add a sinking butt section. The decision will be based on water speed and depth and I usually carry a couple of sinking butts in a pocket with me when I am on a big river.

sinking tapered poly leaders

sinking tapered poly leaders fished out of my jacket pocket!

On smaller rivers and during grilse time I am perfectly happy with a 9 foot length of 10 pound breaking strain nylon loop-to-looped to the end of the fly line. It doesn’t get more simple than that yet it has worked for me my whole angling life so I ain’t about to change any time soon. I add a dropper when the grilse are around so I can fish a tiny wee fly as well as a ‘normal’ size 8 – 12 on the tail. I space the dropper about three feet up from the tail fly.

spools of drennan

Now let’s turn to the vexed question of which brands to use. Over the years I have had pretty much every line let me down at some point. The early fluorocarbons were prone to snapping under even quite low strains if the load was applied suddenly. Thankfully this seems to have been ironed out but I still find that a good nylon is more forgiving and able to soak up more abrasion than more modern materials. So I carry both types of line with me in various breaking strains and diameters.

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

One of my favourite fluorocarbons for making up leaders

The market is flooded with different lines, each claiming to be better than the rival products as they are thinner/stronger/invisible to the fish. I guess you will have to make up your own minds about which to use. At the cheaper end of the market there may be some dodgy materials so I don’t mind spending money on the lines which I have experience of. Riverge is good in my opinion and I’ve used it for a good many season now. I have also used Frog Hair for years without complaint. Drennan sub-surface green has been a stalwart nylon for me too.

Frog hair

A quick word on attaching the leader to the fly line. I don’t know about you but this task used to create all manner of problems for me. I never took to braided butts which you slid over the line and were supposed to cling in place on their own. Dabbing superglue on these joints just made them stiff as pokers and I have seen them fail on a couple of occasions. I still have some older fly lines which I turned the end back on itself and whipped it into a small loop. That has worked fine for me over the years. Many modern fly lines are supplied with neat welded loops on the end, making the whole process of attaching the leader so much simpler.

 

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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.

p5170028.jpg

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.

p5170007.jpg

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.

mayfly-dun.jpg

natural mayfly

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

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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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