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25 Dec 2011

Who was Watson?

I've spent the past few days drafting words about fly patterns for Nomads. One such pattern is the Watson's Fancy - an absolute nailer, though I've fished it less often, perhaps, than I should have done over the past few years. When I was researching the history of the pattern of course I wondered about the name. All I've come up with so far is that Watson of Watson's Fancy was one Donald Watson of Inverness. If anybody knows any further details, please let me know.

20 Dec 2011

More Irish sea-trout flies

More sea-trout patterns (mostly my own tyings, incidentally, apart from the Gadgets, which were tied by Lindsey Clarke). From top to bottom: Worm Fly (useful in saltwater when ragworms are about); Derry Bull (shrimp-suggesting pattern); Gadgets and Storm Fry (again, mainly saltwater patterns); Raymond (variant, useful on the lough); Blue Snake and White Lure (useful on the estuary or occasionally on running water at night).

27 Nov 2011

The work of Denis O'Toole: the Delphi

Denis has today very kindly sent me some photos of the flies he's making for the Nomads text - whose section on fly-making I'm coincidentally working on at present. Among Denis's tyings is that for the blue version of the Delphi. Now, I have no idea what the Delphi, either in the original black version or in this blue variant, is supposed to represent, if anything (a mutant shrimp? a small fish?) but I do know it's a wonderfully effective Irish sea-trout pattern tied in sizes 10-14. I use it often as a dropper pattern on the estuary if there's little seaweed in the channel (droppers and seaweed shouldn't mix) and it fishes at almost any position of a standard three-fly leader on the lough. For the blue variant I favour this kingfisher blue - something that Denis must have intuited - simply because it seems relatively visible in clearish water - more visible than royal or navy blue. And I like the mix of holographic silver tinsel, too, since that is less prone to rapid tarnishing than standard medium flat silver material.

13 Nov 2011

The work of Denis O'Toole

One of the great pleasures of 2011 was meeting Denis O'Toole. Denis has the distinction of having caught (and released) a 16lb. sea-trout on an Irish East coast river earlier this summer - a massive fish which took one of Denis's tyings of a tube-fly. Having fished with Denis and his angling companion, Dean Kennedy, I can say that Denis's approach to his sea-trout fishing is equally distinctive and knowledgeable. It's vanishingly rare, for instance, for me to peer into others' sea-trout fly-boxes and instantly find a fellow-traveller - someone for whom sea-trout fishing began as a hobby but acquired all the dimensions of a way of life - and in that respect, Denis's sea-trout flies were telling: wonderfully tied and with superb proportions. The tube in the shot, for instance, has a (hair) wing incorporating a bit of flash and one extending properly (no further than the beginning of the bend of the hook); it's tied on a (Partridge Salar) single; it's beautifully finished and likely to be durable. The pattern has a good silhouette, a slim profile, and the gleams of flash will catch any light transmitted underwater. It...speaks: 'I shall catch sea-trout - often'.

6 Nov 2011

Switch casting

Currently I'm working on a long section of Nomads text relating to (the history of) Irish sea-trout tackle and will shortly embark on another long section about (the history of) Irish sea-trout flies and fly-dressing. Here and there I've written about the techniques that may appropriately be used by fly-fishers and others. Among those techniques is the use of the switch cast, which seems to be fundamentally a modified single Spey. Accordingly I researched the history of the switch cast - and stumbled across this illustration ( from the pages of Kelson (1895). Absolutely splendid, isn't it?

19 Oct 2011

Flash Sunk Lure

A prototype of this kind of Sunk Lure - I've no idea what to call it - was tried out in Kerry last month. A small shoal of finnock found the lure to their liking - so much so, that one fish wolfed the tandem in a way that obliged me to unclip the forceps. Fortunately I'd nipped down the barbs of the hooks and the fish swam away strongly. There were sandeels around in the estuary, and I've no doubt that the sea-trout mistook the lure for a sandeel. That said, the same shoal of fish looked at Claret Bumbles, Black and Yellow singles and Medicines with almost the same eagerness, so I don't deduce much from the encounters. Still, perhaps a lure like this is worth further experiment. Total length of lure around 1.5-2 inches; size 8 Kamasan B175 hooks; 20lb. Stren to join the hooks (Falkus/Rawling method); silver or pearly nail varnish for the body; red varnish for the head; red silk.

One tying note: it's important to keep the tinsel 'wing' to the correct length. Too long a wing and the fibres will want to wrap themselves round the rear hook, which is bloody irritating. To avoid cursing, ensure that the trailing (rear) edge of the tinsels is roughly level with the barb of the rear hook.

I enjoy tying with tinsel (experiments with various Flash Flies for pike over the past few years have taught me a fair bit, I hope), and a silver Flashabou wing is light, mobile, repels water and is therefore easy to cast. I tie in three or four strands of peacock (eye) feather to suggest a back to the lure and possibly make the lure easier for the fish to see in silhouette, but I doubt that's really necessary so long as the size and general profile are right.

16 Oct 2011

A note on a fly-tying note

Below there's an entry on Sunk Lure mounts. Last night I went back to some research of my own - 'research' sounds rather grand, it's more of a gentle and sporadic investigation - into the work of the angler and poet Tom Rawling, who fished with Falkus during the 1960s and 70s and who spent many winter evenings, over several years, designing and tying various prototype Sunk Lures. Tom's tying notes, liberally scrawled over by Falkus, are detailed, meticulous and fascinating. The image shows a foolscap page of such notes (and there are many, many more like this). Tom and Falkus favoured a brace of size 4 Veniard hooks and 20lb. nylon to join them.

15 Oct 2011

A note on blue

Blue - blue hackles, blue tinsel - is an important component of many sea-trout flies. Think of the Teal, Blue and Silver. Yet there's blue and there's blue. I find that a bright, pale blue - an almost iridescent blue - is rather better than, say, midnight blue or even kingfisher blue. The shot illustrates the kind of blue I'm on about. The image was taken a year ago when I was fiddling about with Sunk Lures (and please see entry below) and blue hackles. Photographed under a desk-lamp, this blue was a revelation: it was practically luminous.

A note on Sunk Lure mounts

I've been all round the houses with this one over the years: standard Rawling/Falkus mounts; hollow braid mounts; twisted nylon and/or solid braid mounts.... The hollow braid mounts I was experimenting with last year, and which I used this season, are OK but after a session or two the waterproof superglue wears away from the braid and the rear hook has a tendency to sag. Sagging is distinctly not encouraged. It's fixable (simply run another application of glue across the braid, allow to dry, and fish again) but it's not ideal. Therefore I think there's merit in returning to the old but reliable Falkus mounts. I use red silk, then 20lb. Stren to join two size 8 or 6 hooks. Apply a coat of waterproof superglue and allow to dry. Instead of silver paint I use pearlescent nail varnish, and make three applications.

I'm inclined to use Sunk Lures in saltwater, particularly (of course) when there are sandeels in the estuaries and channels I'm covering. I've not used them extensively at night in freshwater, since if I do need to fish a touch deeper after midnight then in Ireland I prefer using intermediate lines and small doubles. I dare say if I were to fish more in the English Lake District or Wales that would change.

29 Sep 2011

Travels with a volcano 1: Kerry in September

Last week I returned from a sea-trout trip to Kerry. It was for a number of reasons a tough trip, and for four days there were almost continual storms which made fly-fishing difficult. Hard to cast a fly when waterspouts are sweeping down the estuary.... Still, I got a few fish, took some photographs, and encountered sea-trout on three different waters. The following blog entries give a short and selective tour of the trip. The current image shows breaking waves on an inlet at the western end of Brandon Bay (Dingle peninsula).

Travels with a volcano 2: Kerry finnock

One sea-trout mark I'd never expected to fish was a channel off Fermoyle Strand (Dingle peninsula). There were some small sea-trout moving up and down the channel, and there must have been some bigger fish among them (though we didn't connect with any of these last). Nevertheless, the finnock would take small silver-bodied wet-flies, or tandem Sunk Lures, rather well at times, and I very much enjoyed and learnt a great deal from these minor encounters. In that respect the relative success of the braid-mount Sunk Lure (size 8-10 tandem, dressed with a tinsel-and-peacock 'wing') was very heartening: the finnock took it well, and by no coincidence whatsoever there were at the time large numbers of sandeels in the channel. (Angler: David Knowles.)

Travels with a volcano 3: The Kerry Owenmore

The Kerry Owenmore is a lovely spate river which tumbles from the Dingle mountains to meet the sea at Brandon. There are at least three fishable loughs on the system and the scenery and management of the stream are alike splendid. The only problem during our visit was that the sea-trout hadn't seemed to run, and there were only a few grilse about, despite the fact that we were fishing in absolutely perfect water conditions (a big and dropping flood). Despite our entire lack of success, however, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit...and in a strange sort of way also enjoyed watching waterspouts sweeping down Brandon Bay during an afternoon of intense storms. (Angler: David Knowles.)

Travels with a volcano 4: The Feale

The Feale (north Kerry/Limerick) has a reputation as one of the best sea-trout rivers in Ireland. Yet for some reason the river has fished badly for sea-trout during the past two seasons. The photograph may give a clue as to why: it shows net-marks on a Feale sea-trout, a fish of around 1lb. which took a small double. It was the only sea-trout we moved during a day's fishing in apparently perfect water conditions.

Travels with a volcano 5: A case for decoking

Volcano kettles (also known as Kelly kettles) should in my view be covered in soot and the residues of decades'-old lunchtimes on storm-swept islands. Yet as David Knowles pointed out, if you allow soot and tar to build up on the inside of the kettle then this significantly slows down the brewing process, and therefore you have a case for serious decoking. I was most reluctant to decoke the kettle, but it has received treatment from the wire brush since this photograph was taken (September 2011, and a tributary of the Feale). I thoroughly enjoyed taking the volcano with me on this trip. Very often, volcano-stops are among the best parts of the angling day.

Travels with a volcano 6: Corny Gorman's flies

I took with me the two volumes of O'Gormans Practice of Angling (1845) in the Flyfishers' Classic Library (1993) edition. A frontispiece of the edition shows flies tied by Cornelius Gorman at the end of the 18th century. They're quite beautifully tied and I'd use some of them, including the one shown here, without hesitation today.

Travels with a volcano 7: The Cummeragh

The mouth of the Cummeragh is one of the most hard-fished drifts on Currane. It provides fishing for spring salmon (in particular), but sea-trout also lie all over the bay. Here's a fish which took a Bloody Butcher (point) early one September day. I was particularly pleased to get this one because Tom (O'Shea) had turned his nose up at my choice of fly - he'd have preferred me to fish three Bibios, I think.

Travels with a volcano 8: Four Sisters

Four Sisters is a drift on Currane east of Church. There are four upstanding rocks which provide lies in the lough for both salmon and sea-trout. Here, a stale 2lb sea-trout is being returned by Tom O'Shea - a fish which took at the same time as a decent brown of around 1lb., so Tom had his hands full for a while.

Travels with a volcano 9: Church Island

Church Island on Currane is one of the world's great sea-trout drifts. The anglers in this shot are playing a 6lb. grilse - part of a catch of 15 small sea-trout and a salmon which they released during one morning's work on Church. Church has never been that kind to me, but it's always a privilege to fish here and I can never fish these waters without excitement and anticipation.

27 Aug 2011

More from the Irish East coast 1

The Dargle has always been known as a 'big sea-trout' river. We fished a stretch of it one night at the very kind invitation of Hugh Duff, and although we released no giants, I did manage to conjure a 3lb-er from the darkness. The fish was expertly netted, unhooked and released by Hugh, whose work with the forceps you can see in the shot.

More from the Irish East coast 2

One of the most astonishing little sea-trout I've ever caught, taken late one night from a resolutely urban area in Co. Dublin. I got another finnock soon afterwards, and on the previous night, Ken had also released two finnock - when we'd also been surprised by an otter.

More from the Irish East coast 3

Three men - Ken Dodd, Stephen Byrne and one Ken Whelan - and a bridge on the Boro river, a tributary of the Slaney. The Boro was running desperately low, and we caught nothing except some complacent and fat little brownies. Oh well.

More from the Irish East coast 4

A surprise, this - a specimen dace (not less than 12oz., we estimated) from the Nore, taken on a Teal, Blue and Silver.

More from the Irish East coast 5

A sensible way of cooling off after a rugby match at Inistioge.

More from the Irish East coast 6

Big Silver Blue (size 6) on a low-water Wilson iron. This worked fairly well on the Boyne estuary, where there were millions of small sandeels present.

7 Aug 2011

Reflections on fly-rods for Irish sea-trout fishing

There was a time, somewhere between 1982 and 1996, when I felt I was probably using optimal sea-trout fly-fishing tackle. The rods I then favoured were Daiwa CF98 tools; the reels were Beaulites; the lines were generally DT floaters or intermediates; the waders and coats were made of tough plastic; and I used an old, sturdy, fixed-head landing-net which also doubled as a makeshift wading-staff. Since then, like the rest of us I have...upgraded. Breathable waders and clothing...weigh-nets....reels which are light, with cassette spools and no click-check....and fly-rods which are ever faster, ever lighter, ever 'better'.... Tackle development has been relentless, and I must say that there have been many, many improvements.

All the same, and rather wistfully, I've found myself of late wanting to fish with proper fly-fishing rods rather than with casting weapons. It's only occasionally, in the Irish sea-trout fishing context, that I need to cast more than 20 yards, and I do very much need a rod with a through action and a softish tip. Such a rod needs to be able to roll- and switch-cast, as well.

For the record, I've almost invariably used three fly-rods over the past three years, all of which I think are admirable. (I discount the occasion when I found myself using a 7-footer and a 3-weight line, throwing surface lures over big sea-trout on a diminutive East coast river.) They are a Zpey 10-foot Z1 switch rod for a #7; a Hardy Marksman Drifter (another 10-footer, for a #6); and a Bruce and Walker 10-foot 6" rod which I had to have specially made in 4 sections. Now, I'm not made of money - far from it - and these rods have been the product of sales and assiduous discount or second-hand shopping, or (in the case of the B&W rod) a big wedding anniversary. All of these rods, too, perform separate tasks: the Zpey is a revelation when teamed in high water with an #8 intermediate, and is a rod I cast cast with easily over both shoulders. It also copes with gale-force upstream winds admirably. The Drifter is I suppose my default Irish sea-trout rod, and typically I team it with a Rio Gold WF7 floater (a good line, very stable) to which I attach a 5-foot intermediate polyleader. The B&W excels as a boat rod on big loughs, and recently, on the Boyne estuary, I found myself casting relatively long distances with it in order to reach a tidal channel. Slow down the casting stroke a little and the line fairly flies out - and the loop can be as tight or open as you wish. Despite its fairly heavy line rating (#7-8) the rod's soft enough in the tip to handle finnock, and a through action copes admirably with larger fish - not that I catch too many of those in the course of a season. It's true that the B&W is heavier than its contemporary sisters, but I don't mind that at all: fished with, relaxed with, the rod comes alive.

All these rods, though, have one thing in common: they're fishing rods, as opposed to things you cast 30m with or merely pose with. They remind me in some ways of those 'optimal' rods I imagined I was fishing with twenty years ago...and again for the record, I've just bought myself a splendid heavy-duty plastic coat for boat fishing, too, as well as exhuming that old, fixed-head landing-net. You'll probably think this is mere nostalgia (it'll happen to you, too, I hazard), but I prefer to claim that it's sheer practicality. In Irish sea-trout fishing, reliability and simplicity seem to me to be two very desirable attributes. But of course, you may disagree with that - and indeed with any or all of the above.

The Boyne - and a 3lb. sea-trout

As part of our recent visit to Ireland to attampt to catch sea-trout and construct some features for Trout and Salmon we visited several east coast fisheries, among them the Boyne, the Castletown and the Slaney. By dint of luck and local knowledge we managed to catch sea-trout on all the streams we visited, and the Boyne offered particularly difficult and interesting sea-trout fishing in its lower reaches. At the time of our visit, Bernard Halpenny, treasurer of Rossin and Slane Anglers, caught and released a magnificent sea-trout whose weight we estimated at around 3lb. Scales were taken from this fish prior to release and they are currently being studied by the Celtic Sea Trout Project ( For further information on the Boyne and its sea-trout fishing, please see below.

The Boyne at Mornington

The Boyne flows through Drogheda and then to the sea via a strongly tidal channel at Mornington. This is hard-fished public water, free to holders of a National Salmon Licence. We managed to take a couple of finnock to the fly here, best 1lb., and I thoroughly enjoyed it though the fishing wasn't easy.

Boyne at Oldbridge

The reach of the Boyne at Oldbridge is situated exactly on the site of the famous battle of 1690. The river's tidal in these lower reaches, but at low water offers an exciting succession of stream, pool and glide. The fishing is controlled by Rossin and Slane Anglers - see

The Slaney: Kingsmill Moore's cottage

I first encountered the Slaney as a photograph in the pages of Kingsmill Moore. Since the great man had written of the Slaney's spring salmon fishing I'd somehow - and with nothing but ignorance - overlooked its potential as a sea-trout water. I was quite wrong. The river holds a good head of sea-trout, which typically run, given water, from the second half of June. There is fishing available freely to holders of a National Salmon Licence in the tidal water below Enniscorthy. Pictured is a photo of Kingsmill Moore's house on the Slaney as this is today (near Clonegal, Co. Carlow). For other angling information on the Slaney, check out

I'm most grateful to Ashley Hayden for supplying this image (

The Slaney: Ash Tree

Here's an example of a fine Slaney sea-trout pool below Bunclody. Known as the Ash Tree pool, at the time of our visit the pool held a great head of fish from three-quarters of a pound to over 2lb. We fished at night and then again from 0400-0600 and managed to catch sea-trout both at dusk and dawn. For fishing on the Slaney (and its tributaries) for sea-trout, click on

6 Aug 2011

Castletown 1: Dundalk

The Castletown flows into the Irish Sea just north of Dundalk. It's a hard-fished water, much cared for by the local club, Dundalk and Distict Brown Trout Anglers ( We were delighted and privileged to fish for two days as their guests, and enjoyed some fine sea-trout fishing in very low water. We learned a very great deal from these local experts. Mostly we fished at night, but we also tried conclusions with sea-trout during the daytime. Typically, Mark Corps (pictured here to the left of the shot) was into a fish first cast on a tidal reach of the river.

Castletown 2: Celtic Sea Trout Project scale sampling

We took scale samples from some of our fish, irrespective of their size. The samples will in turn be submitted to the Celtic Sea Trout Project ( and will yield invaluable data not only about the Castletown but about many rivers along the Irish south and east coasts (and about some English and Border rivers which run into the Irish Sea).

Castletown 3: Finnock

The finnock were relatively abundant. Pictured is a fish of around 12oz. in fine condition. On our last night, Brian McShane - stalwart of the club - caught two fine sea-trout of a pound and a half and upwards, and I surprised a further good fish on a Muddler fished dragging across the surface in the pitch black.

16 Jul 2011

Bandon, Ilen, Argideen 1

I returned last week from a trip to the Bandon, Ilen and Argideen in Co. Cork with James Sadler. We were lucky enough to catch sea-trout on all three rivers, and enjoyed a wonderful week-long trip full of incident. And rain. What follows is a short photographic tour of those adventures. We caught nothing big - the best of our sea-trout was a Bandon fish of around one-and-three-quarter pounds - but we had some good evenings and nights, and while in that lovely region of Ireland, also caught rainbow trout and bass for good measure.

Bandon, Ilen, Argideen 2

The Bandon has a good stock of sea-trout. The lower reaches seem perhaps the best for those wishing to catch these nomads, and the stretches of water below Bandon weir (much of it controlled by Bandon AA) or below Inishannon Bridge (free to holders of a national salmon licence) can yield good catches. We fished a couple of late nights, catching fish both below Inishannon Bridge and (pictured) below Bandon. The image is of a finnock James took around midnight; I caught and returned a slightly heftier sea-trout soon afterwards on what was a night teeming with rain.

Bandon, Ilen, Argideen 3

The Bandon also has a prolific stock of brown trout running to well over the pound. They're readily caught on dry flies in the evening, and I noticed some phenomenal hatches of both blue-winged olives and various sedges. Here's James casting a dry-fly upstream of Bandon weir.

Bandon, Ilen, Argideen 4

The River Ilen, near Skibbereen, has a national reputation as a salmon river, but also has a good local reputation as a sea-trout stream. Fishing is offered by the local club ( Access for the fly-rod can be difficult - there is much greenery - but it's worthwhile doing some extended reconnaisance, since the results can be very worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed fishing the river, and was surprised one night with a small bag of modest sea-trout which took standard patterns readily (Teal, Blue and Silver and/or Black/yellow Muddler, on 10 or 12 hooks).