Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing, wetfly

Hold your horses

The trend these days is for more and more synthetics in fly tying. While I use a wide range of these wonders of the chemical industry I still fall back on more natural materials for most of my tying. Let’s take a look at a very old material which has fallen out of favour, hair from a horse’s tail.

More years ago than I care to remember I discovered that hair from the tail of a horse made a good body material for trout flies. I recall there used to be an early type of buzzer pattern called the Footballer which had an abdomen made from a single strand of black horse hair wound alongside a single strand of white horse hair. If memory serves me correctly, the thorax was of dubbed mole’s fur and the head was a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl. I have no recollection of ever catching a fish a Footballer but I was keen to try horse hair on other flies. I liked the segmented effect hair gives when wound and the ‘glow’ of  the under body if you use clear hair on top. Since those far off days I have used horse hair in a number of trout flies, so here are some ideas for you.

  1. My Horse Hair Partridge. A general copy of an olive, this one used to be almost ever present on my springtime casts, but for some reason I haven’t used it for years now. Tying silk/underbody is Pearsall’s olive (no. 16) or Yellow (no. 4) and the hackle is a Brown Partridge feather taken from the back of the bird, tied sparse. The over body is of a single strand of clear horsehair and you can add a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl for a thorax. Varnish the horse hair to give it a bit of strength. I nick Helen’s clear ‘Hard as Nails’ for the job. I must give this one a swim again this season. A variant uses a strand of clear wound with a strand of black horse hair and a golden plover hackle. 

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Maybe a bit too much hackle on this one…………….

2. A dry variation of an Adam’s which consists of replacing the grey fur body with strands of clear and black horse hair wound together and then varnished. This fly works well in a hatch of small olives when tied on a size 16 hook.

3. Connemara Gold Spider – Tied in sizes 14 to 18, Pearsil’s Yellow silk is used to tie in a flat gold tinsel under body which is then over wound with clear horse hair before varnishing the lot. A sparse hackle of either a starling body feather of a hen hackle dyed black is wound at the neck. Connemara Gold spider4. You can make a good dry copy of the Yellow Dun by winding clear horse hair over an under body of yellow tying silk and varnishing it. The hackle is sparse cock hackle dyed yellow and the tails are some fibres from the same feather. By using hen hackles and adding wings made from the secondary wing feathers from a thrush you have a reasonable wet version of the Yellow Sally

5. Mike Harding gives a spider pattern called the Grouse and Gold in his excellent book ‘A Guide to North Country Flies’. This wee pattern has a dark grouse hackle and a body made of Pearsall’s no. 6A (Gold) over wound with clear horse hair (varnish as usual). A lovely looking fly but as yet untried by me. Maybe later this season…………..

5. In the same book, Mike also gives the dressing for an olive spider. Pearsall’s olive gossamer (no. 16) forms the underbody with clear horse hair over wound and varnished. Hackle and tails are grey partridge hackle dyed olive. The illustration in the book shows the colour of olive to be light, but I suppose it is a case of matching the colour to the naturals which are hatching.

Using Horse Hair as a rib has a very long history. An early copy of the the Downlooker featured a strand of black horse hair as a rib over a yellow silk body. I personally have never seen a trout take a Downlooker (natural or artificial) and I am unconvinced it is a fly you need to carry around with you, but it fun to tie.

It can be hard to find good quality horse hair, especially the lovely translucent kind. Buying on line can be a bit hit and miss and I advise you to get yours from a retailer who will allow you to examine the product closely before you buy it. Brittle, poor quality hair is a nightmare to use, constantly breaking under the slightest pressure. I know many of you are thinking ‘I can use stronger/more translucent/easier to work with synthetic materials now’. Yes, you can, but I like the old ‘traditional’ approach sometimes and horse hair is a nice material to work with. Try it yourself sometime, it is cheap, readily available and nice to use. Oh, and the trout seem to like it.

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, trolling, wetfly

All quiet on the western lakes

Sunday was a fishing day. Thick clouds scurried across the sky, driven by a strong south-westerly. The air was warm and moist. There had been rain last week and the ground was still damp. Yes, Sunday was most definitely a fishing day. The only trouble is that nobody had explained this to the fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clouds on Nephin

 

We rendezvoused at 9.30am and I tossed the gear into the back of the van, glad to be out in the fresh air again after a long period separated from the fishing by work and other commitments. I used to always manage to make time for fishing but this year that ability has deserted me, leaving me wistfully imagining days on the river or lake but never actually making to the bank or boat. The mayfly season has come and gone without me being able to cast a fly and the spring salmon were spared my dodgy casting and poor fly choices this year. So the drive out to Lough Cullin was an enjoyable catch up of all the local fishing news, who caught what and where.  The plan was simple, move my boat from Cullin, drive it under the bridge at Pontoon and relocate her in Brown’s Bay on the Conn. From there we would head up the lake to cover the usual salmon lies with the fly and the trolling rods were taken along in case we lost the wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The move was accomplished easily enough and Ben saw three salmon showing on Cullin as he motored up. The area these fish were occupying was covered in weed, making any thoughts of casting to them redundant. They were to be the only salmon we saw all day! A new berth was found in the bay and we loaded the gear before setting off in confident mood. The wind had slackened but there was just enough of a wave to give us hope. And so we started, rhythmically casting an retrieving, deft strokes on the oar keeping us on or close the contours of the bottom. Weed beds had spread in some parts of the drift and a new reed bed is growing rapidly some distance out into the lake now where once it was open water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Notice how calm the lake had become

A small brownie leaped two feet into the air close to the stern as we drifted but of the silver lads there was not a trace. After a few drifts the wind dropped to a mere zephyr so we opted for dragging the ironmongery around. Tobies were the obvious choice so 10 and 18 gram models were given a swim. On dark days like this I like to use a copper spoon, but on Sunday it failed to elicit any response. A silver Toby was given its chance to shine but was similarly ignored. This was hard going!

18gr Copper Toby, most effective on dark days in my opinion

Agreement was reached that it was time for a bite to eat. We pulled into the shore and brewed up, dissecting the intricacies of our demise. Very few other boats  were on the water, a sure indication that fish were in short supply. Salmon were coming into the Moy system of which Lough Conn is a part, but in small numbers for the time of year. It looked like very few of these fish were running in Conn. Sandwiches were munched and tea slurped but there was no urgency to return to the water. Ben changed his cast while I took some photos, all at a snail’s pace. Funny how enthusiasm wanes in the face of blank sessions. As experienced fishers we know that any cast can bring a fish but today we expected to at least see some salmon showing and the emptiness of the lake was hard to face. Lunch over we returned to the fray but our hearts just were not in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A rather damp Connemara Black

By mid-afternoon we decided to call it a day. Conditions had been good but with few fish in the lake we were always going to be up against it. At least the boat had been moved and we had caught up on the fishing gossip. Maybe next time…………….

 

 

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, sea trout fishing, wetfly

Sea trout flies for Beltra

Work has bottled me up for much of the year so far and there is no sign of that changing in the near future. To be honest the recent warm, dry spell all but shut down salmon angling around here with the rivers reduced to mere trickles between the stones. Some thundery rain has fallen over the course of this week, lifting levels just enough to encourage a few grilse in. With them have come the first of those wonderful nomads, the sea trout.

keeping the rod up

Lough Beltra used to be famed for the quality of its sea trout fishing but the near annihilation of the species during the 1980’s due to fish farms/sea lice infestations wiped out the fishery. For many years only the very occasional sea trout turned up and these were invariable skinny specimens, ravaged by the lice and clearly distressed. The battle against the foul and dangerous business of fish farming off the coast is far from won as successive Irish governments smell votes in rural communities by supporting the international fish farming companies. Every year brings new applications for ever bigger salmon farms to further wreck the marine environment; each one fought by those who value the seas and it’s creatures. Although sea trout numbers have shown signs of a modest increase they are still under threat.

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

A bushy Green Peter- as likely to rise a salmon as a trout

Sea trout are an enigmatic fish at the best of times but here in the west of Ireland we have the odd case of he disappearing mature sea trout to add to the conundrum. Most of the sea trout caught are very small. In my native Scotland the immature sea trout (called finnock over there) averaged between 12 ounces and a pound in weight and I have caught many that pushed the scales to a pound-and-a-half. Mature fish started around a couple of pounds in weight and ran up to 5 or 6 pounds. West of Ireland finnock rarely reach half a pound. On top of that the mature fish are very rare in fresh water, yet large sea trout are frequently caught in the sea. I suspect the large fish run once the season closes but it is strange that so few are in the rivers and lakes during the summer and autumn.

The Delphi

The Delphi

Like I said earlier, sea trout are now running and Lough Beltra has received a few of these welcome visitors. So what to use on your cast for them? First and foremost you need those stalwarts such as the Claret Bumble,  Green Peter, and Watson’s Bumble. I like a Bibio with some added flash,  either tied in as a tail or at the head as a sort of hackle. The Jungle Bibio is also reliable. And a big Peter Ross too, a walloping great size 8 on the tail of the cast can sort out the better trout on some days.

Watson's Bumble

Watson’s Bumble

I like the Delphi or even a Blue Delphi when there are very fresh fish in the lake. Either the wingless version or one with well marked Teal for a wing. A muddler headed Katie is a good choice for the bob position on a sea trout cast.

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Kate McLaren, muddler head and a bright yellow tail

Then we have daddies. These will certainly get a reaction from the trout but lots of rises will come short with the fish just splashing at the fly. While this can be exciting for  while the net result is often a disappointment with few trout being securely hooked. Still, on a day when sport is slow a daddy on the bob can illicit some reaction and maybe even tempt the fish to take another fly on the cast.

Jungle Bibio

Jungle Bibio

A word on hook sizes. 8’s and 10’s are the standard ones to go for but I like to have some 12’s and even 14’s handy for those times when the trout are hard to catch. Always fish with barbless hooks for sea trout and handle them carefully before popping them back into the lake.

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double

Peter Ross, this lad is tied on a double

 

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

An easy mayfly pattern

May came and went with unreasonable haste. I hardly wet a line during the merry month, a combination of work commitments and Mediterranean weather kept me occupied and the fish unmolested. Reports suggest the mayfly was late but is still hatching in good numbers as I write in the first week of June and as usual some trophy-sized trout are being landed on the big loughs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3 pounder from lough Conn

So in keeping with the time of year here is a pattern for a dry/hatching mayfly imitation which I dreamt up a few seasons ago. It works well when the fish are mopping mays off the top and Lough Conn trout in particular seen to like this one. Tied on a size 10 hook, different colours can be used such as yellow, olive and green to meet the requirements on any given day. I will show you the yellow version here today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mayfly Emerger

Tying silk can be either olive or fl. yellow. If you use the yellow it creates a very bright fly so it pays to have some of both in the box.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Floss for the rib and fl. yellow tying silk

Run the silk down the hook to the bend where you tie in 3 or 4 fibres from a moose mane. I much prefer this material for making tails to the more traditional pheasant tail fibres because they last so much longer. Even up the ends of the moose hair before tying them in and aim to flair them out (a small ball of the body fur under the tail can help here). Now fix in a piece of rib which is globrite no. 4 floss. Dub a body of seals fur in the colour you desire. Leave plenty of space at the neck of the hook for tying in the wings and hackle. Wrap the floss forward in even spirals and tie it in at the head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

CDC.

Now for the wings which are made of 4 CDC feathers. These are tied in over the back of the hook, almost in wet fly style. Tie in a matched pair of grey CDC with yellow or green CDC flanking them. I especially like the ‘dirty yellow’ CDC from Veniards. Take time to get these wings sitting just right, nice and straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The hackle should be good quality

The hackle is made from a good quality grizzle cock hackle dyed green or yellow. Tie it in and make at least 5 turns before tying it off and snipping off the waste. Form a head and whip finish. I make the hackle quite thick because this is a pattern which will be fished in a wave so it needs to be fairly robust.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finished fly

The fly can be fished either well greased and riding high on the waves or ‘damp’ with just the CDC keeping the fly in the surface imitating a hatching insect. I use it on the loughs but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work on the rivers during a hatch. I like to fish this one on a cast with a spent gnat imitation in the evening. Sometimes the trout will prefer one fly over the other but often both will take fish in equal proportions.

Standard
Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Féile na Tuaithe, Day 1

The rain woke me from a deep sleep. It thundered against the glass reminding me more of a February storm than a morning in May. Today was the first of two days demonstrating fly casting and fly tying and the last thing I needed was heavy rain. I grumpily fed the pets and made my porridge; the thought of getting soaked was not appealing to me at all. The rain had eased off by 9 so I packed the car in relative comfort, did some chores and then drove out to Turlough.

I found my own tent but it was devoid of the promised table, so a quick dash up to the organisers was called for and the missing table was soon replaced. It’s always hard to know what to demonstrate at this kind of event. Do you concentrate on casting or tying? I had been asked to cover both but I figured most people who don’t know about fishing would find casting more interesting and so I set up a couple of single handed rods.

Just as I was thinking I would get away without getting wet while setting up the heavens opened again. It poured out of steel grey clouds for the next 30 minutes while I set up the table and the rest of my gear.

I had time to take in my surroundings while waiting for the gates to open and admit the visitors. The river ran close by and had lots of mature trees surrounded me. Not a bad wee spot to spend the next two afternoons.

Gradually the rain eased up and then stopped altogether. The sun appeared just in time for the gates opening and the crowds came in in good form. Right from the start I had a steady stream of people, some wanting to watch me make flies while the rest were more interested in learning to cast. There were old and young in equal measure and it was lovely to meet so many foreign visitors.

Some seasoned anglers popped by to say hello and discuss recent catches. The rain which was never far away swept in again and didn’t really clear until after 2pm, making for a damp afternoon. During quiet spells I messed around with the camera, photographing flies in different light conditions.

 

Casting, talking and demonstrating kept me busy right up until the official finishing time and then some. I met lots of interesting people and really enjoyed the whole experience, which is just a well as I will be back there bright and early tomorrow to do it all again! Drop in by if you happen to be in the area, it’s a great way to spend a family afternoon.

Since I have been talking to so many fishermen over the weekend I got updates on the local catches. Seems like the Mayfly is late on all the lakes but is hatching now in good numbers so the fishing should be terrific for the next week or so.Cullen is producing larger than average trout this year which is great to see. Expect trout to a couple of pounds if you find them feeding. Conn has bee gradually picking up with the Kelly can catching well as usual over there at Cloghans. I heard Seamus had four right good ‘uns during the week.

It sounds like Corrib has been slow despite increasing numbers to fly hatching but that should change this week if the weather gods behave and give us reasonable conditions.

 

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

The Soldier Palmer

 

I like old patterns. Something nostalgic is awakened when you tie on one of the classic flies from the last century or the century before. That link with the past offers reassurance and knowledge if a fly has been around for this long it must catch fish. So my fly boxes bulge with old-stagers either in their original, undiluted form or with the addition of newer materials. Sure, I have lots of glittery/flashy/fluorescent newbies in there too but I often resort to using the old lads and will continue to do so, basking in their reflected glory. Here is one that you all know but maybe have not fished for a while. The Soldier Palmer.

Soldier Palmers

It is widely described as a variant of a very old fly called the Red Palmer which is thought to be a copy of a hairy caterpillar. The simple addition of a red tail turned that fly into something much, much more effective. I used to have great success with this fly for rainbows back in Scotland and have no reason to doubt that it still kills ‘bows back in my native land. I even recall catching a rainbow on a Soldier palmer fished dry one evening! The trout were rising all round me but I couldn’t tempt one until I greased up a size 12 soldier and fished it static. Sure enough, a two pounder slurped it down, saving a blank for me. Here in Ireland I use it for a very different species, Salmo Salar. Tied in big sizes for the roughest days a Soldier Palmer can be just the medicine for springers and grilse alike. Go as big as you dare, size 4 is about my normal but there are one or two even bigger in my box, just in case…………..

Most of you know the dressing already so I won’t bore you with the details of tying the fly but here are a few tips which I think are important. Firstly, the colour of the body and tail need to be a bright red, not dull and lifeless. I have seen the body tied with florescent wool but this is a step too far for me. Just bright vermillion red wool is perfect. A fl. tail is good though.Next the colour of the hackles needs to be a deep, rich, dark ginger shade. I don’t mind if the hackles are a wee bit too dark but find lighter ginger does not work for me. Lastly, I use an additional hackle at the head to give the fly a better shape.

The flats on the Bunowen

The Soldier Palmer is a great fly for spate rivers like this one

Do not be tempted by such fripperies as bodies made of Peacock herl, red Lite-brite or (heaven forbid) flat red tinsel. If you really must interfere with this old timer try adding a wing of gold flashabou. I have not tried this variant for Salmon but Scottish rainbows used to push each other out of the way to snaffle this gaudy creation.

The only drawback I can see with the SP is that it proves to be next to irresistible to Perch. These little stripy fellows absolutely love the palmer and can be a real nuisance when you are trying for bigger game.

The grilse are due any day now so think about giving the old Soldier Palmer a swim.

Standard
dryfly, Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, trout fishing

The lost dry flies, mystery solved

I bet you were all worried. Did you lost sleep over the mystery of the missing fly box full of dry spinners. Was there an act of criminality? The revenge of a fellow angler, envious of my deadly spinners? Or perhaps something altogether darker. Was Big Brother at work, taking these subversive patterns for the good of the nation? Could alien abduction be ruled out?

Rest easy followers,  the missing fly box  turned up eventually after a mammoth hunt in every jacket pocket, tackle bag and compartment in the car. I had simply put it away in my salmon reel case. Why, will forever remain a complete mystery to me as there was no earthly reason to deposit dry flies in that case.

This getting older is no laughing matter. My memory seem to dim a little more every day now. What on earth was I thinking sticking this wee fly box in with my dirty great salmon reels in the first place?

I peeked inside the box hoping to find some large red spinners but the biggest were tied on 14’s. The chances are they would have not been significantly more effective than the size 16 BWO I used last night.

Most spinner patterns I see are tied with very slim and tightly wound bodies. I take a different approach and use dubbed fur to imitate both abdomen and thorax, accepting that my spinners will look too ‘fat’. I want the fibres in my flies to catch the rays of light and glow (these flies are used almost exclusively for the evening rise). Tails are widely spread cock hackle fibres,  micro fibbets or trimmings from paintbrushes. Wings are constructed from poly yarn in white or grey. Hook sizes are generally 16 or 18 but after last night I an going to tie some larger examples in 14’s and even 12’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard