Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, sea trout fishing

Making sea trout flies

Every winter it is the same, I promise myself I will do a bit of sea trout fishing next year and by the end of the season I find I have not been out nearly enough to angle for these fabulous wee fish. A large part of that is because here in the west most anglers have lost interest in the sea trout as a sporting species. They are now so rare that people just want to leave the ever dwindling stocks alone. None of my boat partners fish for sea trout now. I can fully accept this point of view but on one or two systems there are still a small run of sea trout, enough to make it worthwhile throwing a fly at them. Lough Beltra gets a small run of trout, nothing remotely like what it used to get before the fish farms came along of course. A few swim up the Owenmore river while others turn off into Carrowmore Lake.

As an aside, it has always been a mystery to me where the sea trout in the Moy estuary go. Reasonable numbers of them can be found in the spring and summer hunting sandeels in the shallow bays at the mouth of the river but I personally have only ever once caught a sea trout in the Moy system, a small one on Lough Conn one May day twenty odd years ago. Do these trout run the main stem of the Moy or are they bound for other rivers in the area. The Palmerstown River used to have a great reputation for sea trout but these days they are extremely scarce there. Lord only knows where these sea trout go to, it would be nice to find out.

The loss of the sea trout to the pollution and lice of the fish farmers is one of the great Irish eco crimes in my book. Fish farming is a horrible business which only benefits the rich business owners while it wrecks delicate marine environments. I can recall my earliest visits to the west of Ireland back in the late ’70s when every stream which flowed into salt water held big populations of small sea going trout. Irish sea trout were small compared to the ones I fished for on the Scottish east coast but there were so many of them it made for great fishing. Alas they have all but been wiped out for sake of lining Norwegian millionaires pockets.

A glance in my fly box showed it was already stuffed with flies but maybe I could squeeze a few more in. I sat down at the vice and got tying. All of the patterns below are usually tied on size 10 hooks but you can go a size bigger or smaller.

  1. The Silver Doctor. I have captured only a small number of fish on this pattern but it is great fun to tie. A bright blue cock or hen hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck of the hook with red tying silk. A tip of fine oval silver tinsel is followed by a tag made from a few turns of yellow floss. Now add a tail consisting of a topping, with or without some Indian Crow or red feather substitute. I like to add a butt made of red ostrich herl or rough red wool. Now tie in the body materials of flat and oval silver tinsel and take the tying silk up to the eye. Wind the flat tinsel in touching turns to make a smooth body before ribbing it with the fine oval. Wind the blue hackle and tie it in then make a wing from GP tippets with some bronze mallard over them. Sometimes I like to fit a GP topping over the wing but most anglers don’t bother with this refinement. A nice neat red head finishes off the fly.
  1. The Silver Badger used to be a widely used fly here in Mayo but I never see it fished these days. It still catches fish so here is how to tie this one. Black silk is used and a blue hackle is tied in by the butt at the neck before running the silk to the bend where some fine oval silver tinsel is used to form a tag. A GP topping is used for the tail and the body materials of flat silver tinsel with a fine oval silver rib is tied in and wound. Wind the blue hackle. Make a wing from a slim bunch of badger hair taken from the neck of the creature in the springtime. We are talking road kill here ladies and gentlemen, so if you come across a dead badger at the side of the road in springtime stop and cut off some hair from the neck. It is finer and softer than the body hairs. No smelly dead badger bodies to raid? Use some grey squirrel tail hair instead. Make a head, whip finish and varnish.
  1. Claret Wickhams. One of my own patterns (I always sneak a few in!). Dress a normal Wickhams but make the wings from mottled secondary feathers dyed red. Any mottled feather will do, hen pheasant is fine for example. Then wind a claret hackle in front of the wings. A really good fly this one. The one below is sporting GP tippets for a tail but I seriously doubt this makes a whole pile of a difference to the fish.
  1. Teal and Black. Normally when I want a black coloured fly for the sea trout I reach for a Black Pennel but this fly is a good one on the tail of the cast. The tying I prefer is the old standard one but with a little bottle green seal’s fur mixed in with the black, a rib of fine flat silver tinsel and a pair of jungle cock eyes added as cheeks. This pattern works well for early season brownies too.
  1. A Golden Olive Butcher has been a constantly good fly for me for sea trout ever since I started using it more years ago than I care to remember. Tie a normal butcher but replace the black hackle with a golden olive one.

Christmas is fast approaching and the shortest day of the year is almost upon us. I guess most of us want to forget 2020 but there are many more tough days ahead until the pandemic recedes. Until then we here in Ireland face more lock down restrictions and I anticipate missing the early part of the season next season. Hopefully though, late spring will see an improvement and these flies I am tying at the vice today may get a swim next summer.  

I am in negotiations for a short work contract which would tie me up for the first three months of next year, severely restricting my fishing. Thus is the life of an Interim Manager, periods of no work followed by intense efforts over a short time frame to achieve business goals (often away from home). I have been leading this life for many years now and am used to it but it makes planning your life pretty difficult. I’m not complaining, a lot of people are significantly worse off than I am these days.

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Repurposing

€5. A fiver. That’s all I spent to buy a box of old flies and lures on fleabay. There were some photos to accompany the listing and staring at it I homed in on one fly in particular. It was tied with feather which are rarely available these days. The blue elver fly is a pattern now difficult to make as the Vulturine Guinea Fowl which supplies the feathers is a very rare bird, so when I saw this one in the corner of a box in the photos I placed a bid. All I really wanted was that one fly, anything else that I could salvage would be a bonus. Although a little bit of the electric blue barbs were missing from the wing feathers the elver was in good shape and it will be given a swim on Carrowmore next season. Who knows, it could be a good fly for the sea trout on Beltra?

Blue Elver a la Arthur Ransome

When the package arrived it turned out to contain no fewer than 6 metal tins, one full of old baits and the other five all filled to the brim with flies. I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but rummaging through forgotten fishing tackle is a great pleasure to me. Finding old fly patterns, using ancient baits after they have been cleaned up and simply handling gear which was once used on famous beats or lonely lochs off the beaten track gives me a lovely feeling of connection with the past. Now the fun could start!

First up was the biggest tin which contained old baits. Now most of them were junk, badly damaged or rusty beyond redemption. However there was an ABU Tylo which could be cleaned up and used again (18 gram, Zebra coloured). There were 4 thin plastic sandeels which I will try out next summer when the mackerel are shoaling in the bay. A pair of Mepps with plastic fish were given a swift clean up and deposited in my box of Pike baits. A small wooden plug, two wooden devons and a big silver wobbling spoon were thrown into my big plastic box marked up ‘REPAIRS’ to be dealt with later. Then there were a pair of enormous spoons, chromed on one side only. I’ve never seen metal spoons this size before and they appear to have been handmade. No swivels or hooks adorned these giants and I really don’t know what use they would have. For now they have been put aside. I’m toying with the idea of painting the concave faces and trying them for pike. Bloody BIG pike! The rest of the contents of the large tin went in the bin.

Next I opened a battered old flat metal fly box which was lined with cork. First impressions were none too positive, there seemed to be nothing exciting inside. But some poking around the 50 or so old patterns in there revealed a handful of hidden gems.

the pair of Green Highlanders

There was a pair of huge Green Highlanders tied with yellow bucktail wings. I wonder which pools this was fished through all those years ago? Flies this size might have seen action in the deep flowing waters of the river Tay or maybe the rock-girt runs on the river Awe. Like most the flies in the boxes these Highlanders were not going to be useful for actual fishing anymore. The colours had faded with the throat hackles in particular showing signs of age.

Hairwing Green Highlander

A salmon March Brown. Nice hook.

A big March Brown was in remarkably good condition but the hackle was well worn and was now too short in fibre. Not a pattern I would have any faith in, I plan to salvage the large, bronzed up-eyed single hook. The mottled grey turkey wings can be cut off and used on a Grey Murrough.

looks like this was a Jock Scott once-upon-a-time

Some of the flies were chewed to bits, either by fish or moths! There were broken bends and dulled points aplenty but some of the hooks could be reused once the old dressing had been removed.

One for the bin…………..

Another large fly was lurking in the flat box, it had once been a Beauly Snow Fly, something you don’t a lot of in these days of modern tubes and articulated shanks. Not many patterns boast a blue body. Sadly this example was beyond repair so I took a photograph before wielding the scalpel to free up the big old iron.

A large Beauly Snow fly

Next up was a river Dee favourite of yesteryear, the Akroyd. The simple strip wing made of cinnamon turkey tail and the downward pointing Jungle cock made this fly easy to identify.

An Akroyd tied on a gut-eyed hook. I’ll salvage the Jungle Cock and maybe the cinnamon wings too.

The next two tins I opened up contained tube flies. Some were well tied examples of standard patterns but there were a lot of homemade efforts mixed in with them. On the plus side, many of the tubes were adorned with Jungle Cock cheeks. Some were a bit tatty but still useful after a bit of trimming here and there.

I got some Veniard ‘slipstream’ tubes out of this lot, the plastic ones with the hidden hook connection point on the end. They are on the long side but I will tie up some flies on them. There was a lot of good hair which I salvaged too, using it to make a variety of salmon patterns. Then there was the embossed tinsel which had been used as a rib on some of the tubes. I carefully unwound this and then used it to make some Delphi’s. I’ve never landed a salmon on a Delphi but it works well for sea trout around here.

A quick rub up with a cloth and the old embossed tinsel was as good as new

and used to tie a Delphi on a salvaged size 8 double hook

A triple hook ‘demon’ type arrangement had been residing in one of the round tins. Three size 10’s, the one on the tail an eyeless double, were joined with stiff wire. Gold metal tinsel bodies on all three hooks was actually in really good condition so I kept the dressed bodies and clipped off the orange cock hackle wing. I was reminded of a dressing I had seen years ago so I unearthed my old Tom Stewart books and found the fly I was after, something called a ‘Mary Ann’. I made a small change to the pattern in Tom’s book and swapped out the red cheeks for a pair of salvaged Jungle Cock. I’m quite chuffed with the result!

old triple hook fly

Two more old tobacco tins remained. More dodgy old flies were in residence inside them, again a mixture of trout and salmon patterns from long ago. I recognised many of them but some had me baffled.

A simple hairwing tied on an offset bait hook!

useless tubes, but look at the Jungle Cock!

Articulated salmon fly

the hinge looks a bit rusty

some palmers dressed on size 10 sneck hooks

Half-a-dozen nicely tied palmers caught my eye and I plan to try them next season. They are tied on wonderful sneck hooks! I can see them working on a windy day on the lough, ploughing through the waves leaving a tempting wake for the trout to see.

a well chewed Mosley style dry mayfly

Judging by the range of patterns I suspect the previous owner had a long angling career and he or she fished mainly on big Scottish rivers. The predominance of feather winged flies leads me to suspect they date from the 1950’s, around the time that tube flies and hair wings started to appear. They (or someone close to them) also tied flies as many of the patterns were non-standard and some were roughly tied. The trout patterns suggested he/she also fished on Scottish lochs too. In amongst the bigger flies there were a sprinkling of tiny doubles, size 16 and smaller. These reminded me of similar sized flies which were so popular in the North East when fishing for sea trout. Had this angler fished the lower Dee or Ythan?

I ended up with about 100 flies which were too worn to use but were tied on good hooks, mainly salmon singles and doubles. I’ll work my way through them, stripping off the old dressing and reusing the hooks to make new flies. Another 30 or so flies were in good order and are now in my fly boxes. I rescued around 80 Jungle Cock eyes a pair of kingfisher feathers, lots of bucktail, a little bit of bronze mallard and the embossed tinsel. Not a bad haul for a fiver!

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Some flies for Lough fishing

I spent a few minutes at the vice this evening to tie some size 8’s for lough fishing. Not that was any great need to tie even more flies, I just wanted to enjoy making some old favourites. I know that I cart around an ridiculous amount of patterns but it is simply the price us fly tyers pay for enjoying both the fishing and the making of the lures. Most of them will sadly never even be tied on to the line, let alone catch a fish, but the sheer enjoyment of sitting at the bench and creating a fly from a bare hook and some feathers is just too much to ignore.

Tonight I kicked off with some Connemara Blacks tied for salmon. What’s the difference? Well, I like to add a bit of colour under the tail so I make a tag from two turns of Opal tinsel and then wind on some Glo.brite no. 5 floss. I rib the black body with flat silver tinsel to give it some extra flash too. I also make an underwing from a bunch of GP tippet fibres. This adds strength and a bit more colour when the fly is wet.

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Connemara Black

Next up was a few of my own version of the Raymond. With this one I add a small tag of Glo-brite no.4 but keep the usual body of golden olive fur and double body hackles of red and golden olive. The normal wing of paired hen pheasant secondarys are followed by a long fibred guinea fowl hackle.

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Raymond

I made up some small Green Peters too. Much more delicately dressed, these were busked on a size 12 hook. I can’t say there is too much different about this fly except that it is very lightly dressed by Irish standards. 3 or 4 turns of body hackle are all that is required.

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A lightly dressed Green Peter

Finally, I wanted some heavy Green Peters for the tail of the cast when lough fishing for salmon so I made this next pattern up on those lovely Loop heavyweight doubles. I used a size 10 and made the wing from the ‘bad’ side of a bucktail dyed green.

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Heavy Green Peter

So that was it for the evening, more flies to confuse me and the fish!

 

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Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing

Golden Olive Shrimp

A confession first – this is not one of my own patterns. It was devised by my boat partner and top salmon angler Ben Baynes a few seasons ago. Since then, it has become a firm favourite with anglers on loughs such as Beltra and Carrowmor. As shrimp flies go it is pretty simple to dress and all the materials are readily available.

I use red tying silk and the rest of the original dressing is as follows:

Tag: 5 or 6 turns of fine oval silver tinsel

Tail: Long, slim bunch of bucktail dyed hot orange

Rib (both halves): Fine oval silver tinsel

Rear body: Hot orange seal’s fur

Middle hackle: A cock hackle dyed deep golden olive

Front body: Seals fur dyed black

Head hackle: A badger cock hackle of a black cock hackle (both seem to work equally well)

Eyes (optional): Jungle cock, not too large

Head: red varnish

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As you can see, this is a close relative of many other Irish shrimp patterns but the middle hackle seems to be key to the undoubted success of the fly. the shade of golden olive needs to be dark and intense.Think of the colour of olive oil and you are in the right ballpark. Finding capes or hackles this colour can be tricky as most commercially available cock hackles which claim to be golden olive are too light for this fly. I have tried tying the fly with lighter coloured hackles without success.

As always, I have fiddled around with the original pattern a little to see if it could be improved. Firstly, the tail can have a tendency to wrap around the bend of the hook, leading to poor results. I add a few fibres of stiff Polar bear hair under the bucktail to alleviate this. A couple of strands of orange or pearl flash can also be added to the tail. Don’t over do this though!

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Finally, I mix some black lite-brite in with the black seals fur to add a bit of zing to the front of the fly.

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So how do you fish this fly? It is a great all-rounder that can give you a salmon from the first day of the season to the last and on any position on the cast. It does sterling work when dressed on big irons sizes (4 – 6) on Lough Beltra in March and April and dropping down to an 8 or 10 it will still work later in the season there too. Carrowmore Lake requires small flies, so a size 8 or 10 is plenty big enough when drifting the Black Banks or Bog Bay. The Golden Olive Shrimp also works on running water. I only use this pattern on single hooks, but I guess there is no reason that it wouldn’t work when tied on doubles or trebles.

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Close to the shore on Lough Beltra, the Golden Olive Shrimp is worth a throw on this lake.

 

 

 

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fly tying, salmon fishing

The Crunchie Shrimp

I first tied this fly more years ago than I care to remember. I had read somewhere about using sweet wrappers to form the bodies on flies and experimented with a couple of ideas. This was pre-multi-coloured holo tinsel days and a box of Cadbury’s chocolates provided some pink, blue and red shiny wrappers. None of the resultant flies worked but the germ of the idea had been sown and I later hit on using Crunchie wrappers to make bodies. For those of you  not familiar with this particular confectionery the Crunchie bar comes in a brassy gold foil wrapping.

By carefully opening the bar and flattening the wrapper you can cut a few narrow strips which can then be wound as a body. The beauty of this material is the colour, it is a lovely deep, brassy shade. I will take you through the tying process of the Crunchie Shrimp.

  1. With the hook in the vice start the tying silk at the eye and catch in a soft dark ginger cock hackle

2. Next tie in a cock hackle dyed Fire Orange which is slightly shorter in barb length than the ginger one. Run the tying silk down to a point 2/5ths of the way to the bend.

3. Here you tie in another dark ginger cock hackle, again, shorter in barb length than the first hackle.

4. Now catch in a slim bunch of orange dyed Bucktail hair to form the tail which should be approximately the same length as the hook. At the same time tie in a piece of fine oval gold tinsel which will be used as a rib. If desired, tie in a tag of oval gold at the end of the body.

5. Take one of the narrow strips of foil wrapper you previously cut and whip this in. now run the tying silk back up to the point where the middle hackle is tied in.

6. Wind the foil up the body in touching turns and tie it in at the middle hackle. Cut off the excess. Rib with open turns of oval gold, tie in a remove the waste end.

7. Wind the middle hackle, 3 turns is usually about right. Tie in and cut of the excess.

8. Now repeat the foil/rib used on the rear half of the body to form the front half. As a variant you can use orange floss silk to make the front body.

9. Wind the orange hackle and tie off as usual.

10. The ginger head hackle is given 3 or 4 turns now and tied in in the usual way.

11. Form a neat head with the tying silk and whip finish.

12. I like to give the head a coat or two of red varnish to finish it off.

There you have it! Tied on sizes 6 – 14 this is a good pattern for salmon and grilse.

Happy tying!

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