Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Sweeney Todd Dabbler

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 body complete it is now time to add the bronze mallard cloak
The finished 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.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, wetfly

Bibio Dabbler

There can’t be many Irish lough fishers who don’t have this fly or something very like it in their fly box. Perhaps one of the earliest variations on the Dabbler theme, this one is a good early season pattern for trout.

Use black tying silk, an 8/0 for preference. Hook sizes vary depending on what you will be fishing for and I go all the way from teensy-weensy 14’s right up to gigantic size 4’s for use on Lough Beltra. Tied on a size 8 or 10 it is a great pattern for the salmon in Carrowmore lake.

Start the silk near the eye of the hook and catch in a black cock hackle. Now run the silk to the bend in touching turns.

hackle(s) tied in

Make the tail out of a few fibres of nice dark bronze mallard. Tie them in so the tails are about the same length as the hook shank. This is important as short tails will upset the balance of the fly and makes it look odd. I you feel like adding a bit of bling then a couple of strands of pearl flash can be added to tail at this stage.

Tie in a length of oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib and dub the tying silk with seals fur a similar rough fur. Begin with black at the tail end, then a band of red in the middle and finally black near the head.. Leave plenty of space at the head.

Palmer the black cock hackle down the body and tie it in with the oval silver tinsel. Wind the rib up through the hackle, carefully binding it down in open turns.

palmered black hackle is secured with open turns of tinsel

I like to add a couple of turns of a long fibred hen hackle dyed red under the wings but you may decide not to bother with this refinement.

The wings are your normal bronze mallard tied in cloak style around the hook. Finish off my making a neat head with the silk and applying your favourite cement or varnish.

The real beauty of this fly is adaptability. It can occupy any position on the cast and can be fished with confidence on a floater of sinking line. It’s well worth tying a few up if you are doing some fishing in Ireland or Scotland.

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.

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Holiday weekend (1) a Dabbler pattern


Outside, there is only what can be described as a storm blowing. Trees are bending in the wind and sheets of cold rain are filling the gutters to overflowing. While the east coast of Ireland is just breezy and cool we here in the west are being well and truly battered and soaked. It is so bad that all of the local St. Patrick day parades have been postponed (Castlebar, Westport and Louisburg). Not a day for fishing then, so I am making some flies instead.


The Silver Dabbler, a great pattern in it’s own right

Two of my favourite early season trout patterns for the lough are the Silver Dabbler and the Fiery Brown. Like many other anglers I place great faith in both of these fished deep to entice browns who are grazing on the bottom on hog louse and shrimps. At the vice today I hit on the idea of combining them both into one fly and here is the result of that particular Eureka! moment. This is a nice, easy dabbler style fly to make, demanding no special skills or new-fangled techniques or flashy bits of plastic which seem to adorn so many new patterns.

The dressing is as follows:

Hook: a size 10 wet fly hook

Tying silk: I use brown 8/0 but please yourself, black, red or even fl. orange should be just as good.

Tag: Globrite no.4 tied under the tail

Tail: a few bronze mallard fibres, roughly the same length as the hook shank.

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel (I use Veniards no. 14)

Body: flat silver tinsel

Body hackle: good quality chocolate brown cock hackle, palmered. (Note that this is a lot darker and ‘richer’ in colour than the red game hackle used on a Silver dabbler)

Cloak: bronze mallard, tied around the hook

Front hackle: long-fibred cock hackle dyed Fiery Brown

Lovely rich dark brown cape

This colour is called Coachman Brown in the states


The finished fly, just nededing a lick of varnish on the head

Since this fly has only just been dreamt up I can’t say if it will be a success but it looks good and inspires confidence in me. It may need a bit more ‘tinkering’ to get it exactly right and I am already thinking along the lines of a red head formed of more Globrite floss as an additional trigger point. I will let you know if this one does work later on when the weather has settled down again.

North West view

Lough Mask, the new dabbler should work well here

Plans are afoot to launch a couple of boats this weekend and I’ll post some pics if we make it out tomorrow or Sunday.


Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Flies for Lough Conn, part 1

Every year hundreds of anglers from every corner of the world travel to County Mayo to fish Lough Conn. I used to be one of the hoard and can remember the intense excitement preparing for the trips, that deep rooted anticipation of each detail of how the fishing would be. Perhaps the greatest thrill was tying up flies for the trip on the long, dark winter nights. The pages of angling magazines were  thumbed and the merest details of last seasons killers slavishly adhered too. Now that I live close to the lough and can fish it more or less when I want to that sense of urgency to create exactly each potential new fly has all but disappeared, but the memories of preparing for those trips still lingers like the after taste of a good malt. It’s almost a metaphore for the way my whole life has changed since moving to Ireland; that strict adherence to detail with everything planned and double checked has been replaced with a more gentle acceptance that there is a need to enjoy what life brings and not to attempt to control it too much.

This series of posts are intended to give visiting anglers some basic information about patterns which have worked for me on Lough Conn over the years. It is far from exhaustive and should be taken as rough guide rather than an exact piece of scientific reasoning.  To prevent you all being bored to tears with a super long blog I will post this in a number of sections as individual posts.

A word first about hook sizes. Too often I meet visiting anglers who are fishing with flies which I consider are too big on Lough Conn. As a general rule the trout on Conn tend to want slightly smaller flies than on Mask or Carra. Where I would use a size 10 on Carra  would drop to a size 12 on Conn. Of course there are exceptions but when making flies for this particular lake think of size 12 as your normal size with a few size 10’s for special conditions. I rarely use anything as large as a size 8 unless I am targeting grilse.

I will take as read that you will have ‘standard’ lough flies already in your fly box. By that I mean the following patterns:

Green Peter, Fiery Brown, Golden Olive Dabbler, Connemara Black, Bibio, Jungle Bunny, Gorgeous George, Daddies, Claret Bumble, Golden Olive Bumble etc.

Let’s start with some patterns for the early part of the season. While there are duckfly hatches on lough Conn they are not as dense as those on Corrib or the better duckfly holes on Mask. I am guessing this has something to do with the topography of the lake bottom. There certainly plenty of duckfly hatching in February – April but they are well spread out across the lake meaning local hotspots are rare. Regardless, visitors will need some duckfly patterns to meet the occasion of feeding fish and hatching buzzers.

Patterns: Peter Ross, White winged duckfly, Watson’s Bumble, Blae and Black and assorted buzzer patterns.

I use a variation of the Peter Ross which has worked for me in difficult conditions at Duckfly time. High winds and rough water are not good for fishing during a duckfly hatch but I found that a Peter Ross with some added bling will pull a few trout when you can see flies hatching but there is no sign of trout feeding. I presume they are still eating the pupa as they ascend to hatch but normal buzzer fishing is out of the question in a big wind. Give this one a try when faced with this situation.


Hen cape, dyed

Standard dressing for the Peter Ross except the black hackle is replaced with one dyed florescent red (you can get the dye from Veniard). I also add some tails of GP tippets dyed the same colour and use Holographic silver tinsel for the rear part of the body. Sizes 12 and 14 have worked for me and I fish this one on the tail on the cast.


Hackle tied in


nearly finished the body



Finished fly

Next up is a white winged hatching buzzer which does well in calm conditions when a more exact profile is required. I use some fine dubbing from Frankie McPhillips to make the abdomen and thorax.


This comes in a wide range of shades

The wings are white poly and are tied in spent fashion using figure of eight turns.


Tie the wings in first

I also add a short tuft of the same material as a tail. The rib is fine Fl. red floss.


Tail tied in. Both wings and tail will be trimmed to length later.


Finished fly

The Silver Dabbler is a fly which works all year round but it does great work early in the season. I like to fish it on a sinking line on Conn on those all too common days when nothing is showing on the surface. There are more variations of the Silver Dabbler than you could shake a stick at, but here are three which I use.

The original Dabbler sported a seal’s fur body but a silver tinsel bodied variant was quick to follow. I still use that one with the only addition being a couple of strands of flash added to the cloak.


An original tying of the Silver Dabbler

Next we have the red headed version. This is identical to the fly above except the head is formed with Globrite no. 4 floss. This makes a good aiming point for the fish and it can work wonders some days.


Red-headed Silver Dabbler

Finally I tie a fry imitating version with a red floss tag under the tail, a pearl tinsel body, grizzle body hackle, small Jungle Cock cheeks and a red head. A few strands of pearl flash are also added to the cloak.


Lookout for some more posts on flies for Conn over the coming weeks.


fly tying

Connemara Black Dabbler

I admit to absolutely loving this fly. Over the years it has given me so many trout in all sorts of conditions that I reach for it when I have no real idea what else to try. I place huge faith in it and it very rarely let me down. The dressing is almost the standard one with a couple of tweaks which I think make it even better than the original.

I first came across the Connemara Black as a kid. My uncle gave me 3 paperback copies of Tom Stewart’s ‘How to tie flies’ one Christmas. I devoured the contents, noting every detail of patterns like Black Dose, Camasunary Killer, Mystery and of course the Connemara Black. I remember Tom writing how he made some up for a customer who fished the Aberdeenshire Don and thought is was a wonderful fly for that hallowed water. I can’t say I ever used it there but I regularly give it a swim these days on Conn, Cullen, Mask and the rest of the Mayo lakes. Here is my version of this timeless classic:

  1. Start the black tying silk behind the eye of the hook and catch in a black cock hackle, concave side up.

2. Next you want to run the tying silk down the shank towards the bend of the hook, catching in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and a piece of Glo.Brite no. 7 floss.

3. Now for the tail. I like to use fibres stripped from the longest Golden Pheasant topping feathers. This gives me a nice long tail, in keeping with the overall shape of a Dabber. Tie the fibres in and take the tying silk to a point where you want the tag to meet the body.

4. Wind the floss down to the start of the bend and back up again to where the silk is hanging to form the tag. Tie down and snip off the waste. The point of doing this is to give the floss a chance to look orange, if you wind it over a base of black tying silk it will lose some of the brightness.

5. Dub the tying silk with black seals fur after applying a good waxing.

6. Form the body by winding the dubbed silk back up to about 4mm short of the eye. You need to leave enough space for the hackle and cloak. Don’t worry if the body looks a bit rough – the rougher the better!

7. Palmer the cock hackle down the seals fur body (not over the tag). Counter rib with the oval silver tinsel and cut of the waste hackle tip and end of the oval tinsel. Invert the hook.

8. Pinch off some blue – dyed Guinea Fowl fibres from the feather and apply below the hook only as a beard hackle. Remove the waste ends.

10. It is starting to take shape now and the next step is the add the cloak of bronze mallard fibres all around the hook.

11. Aim to have slightly more mallard on the top and sides with less below the hook.

12. Cut away the waste ends of mallard, tidy up the head and whip finish. All that is left to do is to varnish the head.

I use this fly mainly as a middle dropper and dress it in sizes 14 to 6 with a size 12 being my favourite on the trout loughs. It works during buzzer time in the early spring for obvious reasons but it pulls fish just as well in a hatch of olives and mayfly.