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?

Fishing in Ireland, fly tying, salmon fishing, trout fishing

4 for the new season

I have been busy at the fly tying table again. With a bit of time on my hands this week I was able to spend some time immersed in fur and feather. Ever the optimist, I am hoping this year will be kinder to me and days on the water will be more frequent than in 2016. With that in mind I have been examining the fly boxes and filling the obvious gaps. You and I both know that I have too many flies as it is, but I always seem to find an excuse for some new patterns to try out on the unsuspecting fish. Let’s start with a very easy one.

  1. Plover and Peacock


I have not come across this pattern anywhere else but surely others have tied something very similar. Plover feathers are hard to come by these days as the poor wee birds are now quite scarce. Gone are the days when you came across them frequently on any upland moor. I am down to my last pair of wings now so I am only using the feathers sparingly. The combination of stripped peacock quill body and a couple of turns of one of those marvellously spangled Golden Plover hackles makes for a lovely subdued combination. Keep the dressing light, not more than a couple of turns of hackle. Untried as yet, this is one early in the season for river brownies. It will get a wetting on the Robe in April, swung gently down and across or flicked upstream into the tight wee pockets around the stones and limestone outcrops.

2. Bibio variant


Yes, I know that the last thing I need is another Bibio pattern. I have pearly ones, copper ones, green ones, ones tied with legs, some with tails and god knows how many other blooming Bibios. Serried ranks of them line my fly boxes and they get frequent use throughout the season. So why add to the confusion by introducing another one? It was the yellow tag that hooked me; in my imagination I could just see that dot of yellow glowing in a peaty loch and turning a trout’s head. This is not my pattern; I spotted it on a Twitter in a post by Connor McLennan. Standard Bibio dressing but with a fl. yellow butt wound at the bend and a browm partridge hackle at the throat. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

3. The Sooty Bumble


Nothing new here eh? Just your normal Sooty Bumble. Well yes and no! I love using Sooties in the spring, they seem to have the ability to produce fish like magic, in even the most challenging conditions. A size 12 sooty with a red rib is a frequent addition to my cast from March right through until the greendrakes start hatching. The bumble version is a good fly too but I always had reservations about the head hackle and figured it was needing something different. Inspiration came to me at the vice a couple of years ago and I used a ‘Mexican blue’ feather from the rump of a cock pheasant as a head hackle on an otherwise normal tie. The result is a very useful pattern, even if it does not exactly jump out at you in the box. the next time you are on a lough with dark buzzers hatching in a stiff wind give this lad a try.

4. Hairy Mary. Just the mention of this lady’s name evokes memories of tea-coloured rivers, sparkling grilse, damp Irish summers and bent rods. It is with great trepidation that I tinker with this iconic pattern but you see the blue hackle is a bit of a problem for me. I think that blue works well for very fresh fish but they tend to to off it very quickly. I have read this in many books and it does seem to be generally true to me. So what to do with the redoubtable Hairy Mary then?

I decided to replace the blue throat hackle with one of Golden Olive. This is not a colour you see used too often on salmon flies but it looks fabulous in the water, seeming to glow in the peat stained waters of the west. The shade of golden olive I want is a rich, deep olive, not too pale and watery. And I’ve tied it long in fibre so there is plenty of movement. So far this one is untried and may be a complete disaster but I like the look of it and have high hopes. Oh for a wet summer!