I buy a lot of fishing gear on line just like many of you do. It is convenient and you can find pretty much anything you want out there in internet land. At the same time I make a conscious effort to support my local tackle dealers as without them we anglers are going to be a lot worse off. So for me at any rate there is a mix of online and local fishing tackle suppliers. It was not always so and during my early years all my tackle was bought from the fishing shops in Aberdeen where I grew up.
Sharpes had a fancy shop in Belmont Street but it was way too expensive for the likes of me so I hardly ever crossed the threshold. Rows of ‘Scottie’ spit cane fly rods and trays of beautifully tied salmon flies shared the hallowed spaces with tweed jackets and sturdy leather boots. It was all very refined and posh. I was like a fish out of water in there.
That shop closed down sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s and one of the guys who worked there, Richard Walker, set up his own shop down on King Street. A large, bearded and lugubrious fellow, he presided over an eclectic mix of tackle. If Richard wasn’t there his mum covered for him. My heart sank any time I went in and found Mrs Walker behind the counter, the poor thing had no idea where anything was, leading to a lengthy hunt in all the cupboards and drawers for the right swivels, hooks or whatever. That shop shut down after a few years but I have no idea what became of the big man.
Most of my time (and money) was spent in Thistle Street where the small Somers shop was positioned. The old man only rarely popped his head into the shop by the time I was on the go but his son, Jim, ably assisted by Horace helped me enormously as I grappled with learning the arts of angling. I still own and use some of the gear I bought from them back in the late ‘70s. The shop was later sold and the new owner moved to bigger premises in Bon Accord Street.
Today I want to tell you about unusual flies which tied for use on the rivers of the extreme north east of Scotland, the Ythan and Ugie. The patterns were not that odd but the hooks they were tied on were. I only ever saw these hooks for sale in that stalwart of Aberdeen tackle shops, William Brown and Co. of Belmont Street. ‘Broons’ as all and sundry knew it in the city was one of those old fashioned fishing shops, replete with the trappings of such fine old establishments. Ancient dark wood everywhere, glazed cabinets on one wall, racks of shot guns, a green topped counter like a bar and usually a couple of venerable old anglers sitting on stools talking about the good auld days. Glass cases of stuffed salmon hauled from the Dee or Don by lords and colonels adorned the walls. Behind the counter was the domain of two characters, old Tom and George Denholm. Lord only knows how old Tom actually was. By his bearing I marking him down as an ex-military chap who probably fought for king and country in the Great War. George was middle aged, fond of a dram and could put his hand on anything in the shop at the drop of a hat. He knew where to find those long-shank pennel hooks alright.
The Ythan and the Ugie are narrow rivers which flow through the lush green and gold pasturelands of North East Scotland. They both get runs of salmon but the main quarry was sea trout which used to be extremely prolific. On the slower, deeper sections of the rivers the humble worm ruled supreme but where the current speeds up or there is some broken water anglers used the fly to good effect. It has always surprised me that the angling on these rivers has never been fully covered in print despite a long lineage of sport fishing on these rivers. I don’t know the Ugie but I spent a big chunk of my early life fishing the Ythan. Hence my acquaintance with the pennel hooks from ‘Broons’.
The hooks I want to tell you about are roughly the same length as a size 8 long shank trout hook but they are made with an additional hook pointing upwards in the middle of the shank. I had purchased some of these odd hooks before, maybe 10 or 12 of them to make some Ugie Bugs for myself but there was a sale in Broons one time and I bought a box of them. The box was opened and it was not full but for a small sum I purchased what remained and I still have a few of them left. The box itself is sadly lost so I can’t tell you too much about the maker. I seem to recall they were made by Partridge but I could be wildly wrong about that.
Sadly Broons closed it doors many years ago. Tom and George have long since departed this world. The circle of life keeps turning and all things come to an end at some point. The bedazzling range of fishing tackle available online or from the angling hypermarkets are incomparable to the likes of Broons with their handful of split cane rods and rimfly reels. The competition was just too strong for them. It is a shame as those old tackle shops possessed a charm all of their own. Like many other anglers of my vintage I miss the sights and smells of the now defunct old tackle shops.
The Ugie Bug
Akin to a long skinny Alexandra, this was a very popular fly in the middle years of the last century. It will still tempt the odd fish so I keep one or two in my box. It is very easy to make, only the top hook getting in the way when winding materials is liable to cause you any distress. Use black tying silk and start it at the eye of the hook and wind towards the bend. Catch in a short length of red Ibis substitute such as a slip of dyed swan or duck. I piece of bright red wool works just as well. Now tie in a length of fine oval silver tinsel and some black floss silk before running the tying silk back to within a few millimetres of the eye. Wind the floss to make a tapered body, tie off and remove the waste. Now rib the floss with open turns of the oval silver tinsel. Tie in and remove the waste as usual.
Take a bunch of cock or hen hackle fibres dyed black and tie them in under the hook to form a beard hackle then remove the waste ends. Alternatively, you can tie in and wind a black hackle in the conventional manner. The wing is made from peacock sword and I like to take a few fibres each from opposing tail feathers. This is tricky stuff to work with so take your time and aim to get a wing which sits straight on top of the hook and is the same length as the tail. Remove the waste.
A pair of small jungle cock eyes are tied in, one on each side of the wing. Cut off the waste, wind a neat head with the tying silk and cut off the silk. Varnish the head to complete the fly. Fish this fly either on its own or on the tail of a wet fly cast. I prefer it on a sinking line as the light goes and on into the darkness. Could you simply tie this pattern on a normal long shank hook? Of course you can! I reckon you could pep this fly up a bit with a couple of strands of flash in the wing too.
These hooks are grand for tying another very old pattern, the Wormfly. I think this fly was originally tied on two separate hooks joined together with gut. That then progressed to either the pennel hooks I am discussing here or simple long shanked hooks. This is an old stalwart which works in poor light, in the dark or in a good wave on the hill loughs.
Start the black tying silk at the eye and tie in a red game hackle. I prefer hen hackle but use a cock hackle if you wish. Now run it down to the first bend where you tie in a second, slightly smaller red game hackle. Keep winding the silk to the bend and tie in a red tail. Select whatever material you fancy, feather, floss or wool spring to mind. I like to add in a length of fine copper wire but this is not in the original dressing. I just want to give the weak peacock some protection. Tie in about 6 herls of peacock and take the tying silk up to the hook in the middle of the shank. Now twist the herls into a rope and wind this up to the tying silk and tie it in. Remove the waste and rib the rear body with the copper wire. Wind that hackle which you tied in earlier and remove the waste. Repeat the same process for the front of the fly. Form a head with the tying silk, whip finish and tie off before varnishing.
The most common variation is simply to swap the natural red game hackles and replace them with black hen hackles.
I also tie the Alexandra on these hooks to give me a good imitation of a minnow.
Just about any hackled loch fly can be adapted for tying on these hooks. Flies like the Ke-He, Zulu or bumbles lend themselves perfectly to this simply by tying two of them on the one hook. I realise that getting your hands on these vintage hooks is going to be virtually impossible for everyone else, I was just lucky to buy some all those years ago. Use a normal long shank hook and you get the same effect.
I seriously doubt if the additional top hook makes a huge difference to the fly. Over the years I have caught a good few trout on flies tied on these hooks and not one of those fish was hooked solely on the middle hook. I just like using them for old time sake. I suspect old Tom would approve.