Fishing in Ireland, fly tying

Keeping it simple

Sometimes I look at the plethora of new fly patterns which appear every year and wonder if we anglers are deluding ourselves. The latest ‘must have’ synthetic materials or the most fashionable hooks adorn the pages or screens of every angling periodical, begging us weaklings to part with hard earned cash so we too can tie up this season’s killer patterns. I’m no expert when it comes to the wider angling world but here in the West of Ireland I find the old reliables just as effective as always.

That old warrior, the Stoat’s tail still catches fish when the water is low and warm, just like it did all those years ago when it was invented. I play around with body materials just for something to do rather than any great conviction one is significantly better than the others. I like a red body on my Stoat’s for no reason other than I like the look of it. A dash of red never does any harm in my book. It looks like the colour of fins on small fish to me. The rest of the dressing remains the same though, there is no need for any flashy new bling.

We are in August now so a daddy is a likely performer. Again, I don’t get too hung up on exact patterns. A natural colour body for the browns or a silver body for the migratory lads, be they trout or salmon. Legs? Yes, and plenty of them. Hackles? long and flowing to give life. After those essentials I’m not overly pushed on the exactitude’s of the remainder of the dressing.

Tying in some legs on a silver daddy

I am more than willing to accept, and indeed revel in the tag ‘old fogie’ as at my time of life change is hard to enjoy. But my bias for the simple has been born out over the years and in all kinds of angling scenarios.

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

Green tinsel

I was given a fly the other day by a highly experienced local angler who has had some success with it on Carrowmore Lake. It is predominantly black and dressed in bumble style but the thing that caught my eye was the body material – green tinsel. For years I have found this colour of tinsel to be an excellent attractor of both trout and salmon.

My infatuation with green tinsels started a long, long time ago when, as a young lad I bought a book called ‘Clyde style flies and how to dress them’. This slim volume contained some great patterns but the main emphasis of the book was on the design of the flies and how to keep the dressings to a minimum on small hooks. Back in those days the smallest hook I could buy was a size 16 and I tied up lots of the patterns from the book on Mustads. The big attractions for me was the simplicity of the patterns and the readily available materials they required.

One of the flies which I tied was a thing called the Murray’s Blue bottle spider. There were a few variations of the bluebottle. They all had a small black hackle but the body could be made out of either blue or green lurex. There was even another variant which sported a couple of turns of pink lurex as a butt. In use, the blue bodied one did not catch me very much at all but the green one was a sure fire killer on the Don on summer evenings before the rise got going.

Not much left of this 50 year old lurex!

The big drawback with the small Murray’s spiders was the lurex itself. While it was very shiny it was also extremely delicate and rarely lasted beyond the first take. I spent so many frustrating evenings cutting off one damaged spider to replace it with a fresh one, only for it to be destroyed in short order by the next fish. I tried covering the lurex with varnish and this helped a little but the fly was inherently weak. These days I’d use epoxy to coat the lurex but back in the day varnish was all that was available.

I never found the blue lurex to be as effective as the green

A tiny dry version of the blue bottle spider is an effective pattern but I suspect it entices smaller trout ahead of their larger brethren. I can’t recall landing any big brownies on a dry Bluebottle but it used to catch me loads of small fellas.

Fast forward to a more modern era and the arrival of mylar as a tinsel. Much stronger than the outdated lurex, mylar also comes in a nice green colour.  Of course nowadays there are a profusion of different types of tinsel-like materials to pick from in just about any colour you can imagine but I like Mylar and use it for most of my tinsel bodied flies. We fly tiers get used to handling certain materials, become more dexterous with them in use and better able to judge just the right amount of tension we can apply.

A stoat’s tail with a green mylar body is a capital fly for grilse in pretty much any conditions. I rib the green body with oval silver tinsel to add some more flash and to protect the mylar a bit. I fish this fly fast, darting it across the lies so the fish don’t get too long to look at it. In the past I used to add a layer of pearl over the green which makes for a very pretty fly but I can’t in all honesty say this made the fly any more deadly.

I have tied  green shrimp pattern for the summer grilse fishing but it has yet to be tried so this one comes with no recommendations (yet). The silver tag and a wound GP body feather as a tail are standard. The body is in two halves, the rear being green tinsel ribbed with silver and front is red fur or silk, also ribbed with silver. A doubled badger cock hackle is wound at the joint of the body and another one at the head. You could add a couple of Jungle Cock eyes too if you feel the need.

it looks like it should catch fish!

So there you have it, green tinsel is a great addition to trout and salmon flies. In a world of increasingly complex patterns and ever more exotic synthetic materials the humble coloured tinsel can still be relied upon to give some action. Give it a try!

pools on an west coast spate river, ideal water for these flies


Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Casting practice

Friday morning and the weather vane on top of Lagduff Lodge is still firmly set in a Northerly airflow. Dry again today so the fishing will be little more than casting practice, leaving me less than overjoyed


I fished from pol Garrow down to the Rock Pool but the only fish I saw was a  large resident who made a terrific splash in the Brigadier’s pool. Small flies like the Black Pennel, Blue Charm and Stoat’s Tail were all given a swim but without success. Time to head back to the comforts of the lodge.

The walls were decorated with old photos of past glories and the fishing register had pride of place on the table in the sitting room. 155 salmon had been landed from the beat this season but we were not going to be adding to that impressive total this week!

Gawn, who had been fishing down river returned to say he had an offer from what he was fairly sure was a salmon but the fish didn’t stick and we remained fishless apart from Julian’s early success with a Sea Trout

Fishing in Ireland, salmon fishing, sea trout fishing

Sticks and stones

Day 2 on Lagduff and the drought continues. There was some mist in the morning which we all prayed would develop into a deluge but it petered out without making any difference to the water level in the Owenduff river. I elected to try fishing down at the bottom of the beat and set of with rod and wading stick along the side of the shrunken stream. The wading stick was an essential bit of kit as the bottom of the river consists of rounded stones covered in very slippery algae.

All the way down the river was a sad shadow of a river, more stones than water.

I fished the deeper pools but this was hard work as there was so little flow the flies were virtually lifeless. A couple of very small sea trout jumped in one pool but it was quiet apart from that. I was picked up at lunchtime and caught up with the rest of the party who all had similar tales of woe. The only salmon we saw all morning were in the photographs on the walls of the lodge.

After a bite to eat I strolled up river to the Rock Pool. A slight increase in the wind ruffled the surface at the top of the pool but because it was coming from the North the main body of the pool was flat calm – not ideal conditions.

As I fished down a grilse jumped some 20 yards below me giving a degree of encouragement. I covered the lie without success but some small sea trout started to jump hard against the far bank. Julian appeared from upstream where he had fished without seeing any signs of fish. He worked his way down the pool and near the tail another grilse jumped close to him. We fished on for a while but could not stir the salmon so Julian went back to the lodge for a well earned cuppa.

Two more grilse jumped in quick succession but these all looked like fish which had been in the river for a while and were highly unlikely  to be takers. I called it a day and made my way back to Lagduff Lodge where it was my turn to make the dinner. Maybe Friday will see a change in fortune for us.


Tying small trebles

It’s been raining for a few days now and the rivers are in spate. Some salmon are running and a few have been caught, but not by me! My last outing resulted in one pike, all be it a good one of just over twenty pounds. As we are now into the month of May my thoughts have turned to the upcoming grilse run and the gaps in my fly box.

I tied up a few tiny trebles today as I was completely out of these useful flies. I don’t use them much these days but when the river is dead low and the grilse hard to catch I reach for these little beauties. I first used these in Scotland many years ago after seeing an excellent fisher tie them for sea trout. I was using tiny tubes for grilse and figured the small trebles should be just as good. They certainly are and I can recommend them to you. Yes, they are fiddly to tie but you only need a few for the really difficult days. Here is how I make them.


1. Take a size 16 treble and start the tying silk behind the eye. The secret of tying these flies is to keep the number of turns of silk to the minimum. 8/0 thread is a good size to use. Here I will make a Stoats Tail.


2. Select a golden pheasant topping. I prefer to use a large one as it is easier to handle at this stage.


3. Tie the topping in on top of the hook with tight wraps of the silk and then continue to the start of the bends.


4. Now catch in a length of fine oval silver tinsel which will be used for the rib. Run the silk back up towards the eye in tight, touching turns.


5. You can make the body from black floss silk but I prefer to use black holographic tinsel instead. Tie in a piece leaving a gap behind the eye of the hook.


6. Wind the tinsel down to where the rib and tail are tied in then back up again to the eye. Tie the tinsel off with the silk and cut off the waste.


7. Now wind the silver tinsel rib in open turns up the body and tie that off too. Remove the waste.


8. I form the wing/hackle from dyed black squirrel tail hair. Firstly cut a small bunch of hair from the tail and offer it up to the top of the hook.


9. Use the ‘pinch and loop’ method of tying the hair on. This is a bit tricky on such a small treble but take your time and adjust the length of the hair before tightening the silk. Don’t take too many turns!


10. I now reverse the vice and and repeat the winging process below the hook. Use a slightly shorter and slimmer bunch of hair for this.


11. Return the vice to the normal position and trim off the excess hair. Form a neat head with the tying silk and whip finish with the tying silk. Remove the waste end.


12. The fly finished and ready for a couple of coats of varnish on the head.

You can tie just about any fly you like on these small trebles but I prefer simple hairwings and shrimps like these:






A word of warning; do not use these tiny trebles if there are smolts or other small fish in the river. They are intended for use in late summer when the small lads have migrated. The trebles are efficient hookers of grilse but can cause terrible damage to small fish so please be mindful of this before you try them out.

Small flies won’t fish properly on heavy leaders so use something around 5 or 6 pound breaking strain. Vary the retrieve till you find what the fish are looking for, some days a very quick retrieve is effective. Hope you enjoy tying and using these patterns!