North Country Spiders For Irish Rivers

Classic North Country Spiders : successful patterns for Irish rivers and the fly species they imitate

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Many of you will know that I love fishing spiders. I recently made this as a post for my Facebook group Fly Fishing For Trout In Irish rivers after a couple of people asked me about doing it. I thought I would put it up on here for anyone else who might like to see it.

So I thought I would share some of my knowledge of North Country Spiders with you all. To avoid any confusion please note that these style of wet flies originate in the North of England, hence the name. Here in Ireland we simply call them Spiders and in America they are known as Soft Hackle Wet Flies. Although technically a wet fly they are actually more like an emerger really in that they imitate an emerging hatching fly.

Hopefully some of you might find this useful.

So here’s a list of some of the most useful spiders there are for Irish rivers and the sizes to tie/ fish them .

It’s by no means a comprehensive list of all spiders and of course you don’t need to have this many spiders in your box to catch trout but If you had all these spiders in your box you would catch fish on any Irish river in any conditions any time of the year. Pretty much everything is covered by these.

  • Snipe and purple #14, #16, (iron blue)
  • Partridge and Yellow #14, #16 (pale wateries and other pale ephemera species)
  • Partridge and orange #12, #14, #16 (stonefly)
  • Black spider #14, #16, #18 (midge)
  • Black and silver #14, #16, #18 (midge)
  • Straddle bug #10, #12 (Mayfly)
  • Greenwells spider #14 (various olives)
  • Claret and black #14, #16 (iron blue)
  • Woodcock and green #14, #16 (various olives. Can also be taken as a sedge)
  • Snipe and Yellow #14, #16 (all pale upwinged ephemera )
  • Black quill #14, #16 (various olives)
  • Olive Partridge and olive quill #14 (various olives)
  • Endrick Spider #10, #12, #14 (march brown. Also great for sea trout and salmon and works great for loughs as well as rivers for big brown trout)
  • Hares lug and plover #12, #14, (large dark olive)
  • Dark Watchet #14, #16 (iron blue)
  • Gravel Bed #12, #14 (daddy long legs)
  • Partridge and dark olive #12, #14, #16 (various olives)
  • Poult bloa #14, #16 (spurwings, pale wateries and blue winged olive)
  • Olive bloa #12, #14 (large dark olive)
  • Waterhen bloa #14, #16 (iron blue and large dark olives)
  • Iron blue #14, #16, #18 (iron blue)
  • February Red #14, #16 (emerging baetis nymph)
  • March brown #12, #14 (march brown)
  • Partridge and hares ear #12, #14, #16 (sedge)
  • Peacock and red #12, #14 (alder and sedges)

These are all very well known famous patterns and tried and tested for generations. Obviously you can easily reduce the amount of patterns but these cover everything.

Another thing worth knowing is that all nymphs are at least a size bigger than the natural dun when fully hatched. The spiders should also be a size bigger than the natural duns you see in the air. And at the start of the season the natural flies are big then as the season goes on they decrease in size. Also early season their wings are darker and they get lighter in colour as the season goes on too. So keep this in mind: early season- larger and darker, mid season smaller and lighter and at the end of the season they are bigger and darker again. I hope this information is of use to some of you.

Upstream Nymphing

Learn how to improve your technique for upstream nymphing which will in turn improve your understanding of watercraft, your presentation, stealth and approach.

Up to 90% of a trouts diet is subsurface so it’s no surprise why fishing with nymphs is such a successful method. And often the bigger trout will mostly be feeding on nymphs.

Most modern anglers often only fish nymphs when the conditions are not suited for dry fly fishing. And some even dismiss it as a chuck it and chance way of fishing with very little skill which really couldn’t be further from the truth. To be consistently good at catching trout on nymphs takes a lot of skill.

Nymphing is getting very popular in recent years which has really given the tackle industry the kick up the arse it needed to produce more suitable tackle for upstream nymphing such as dedicated nymphing rods and proper suitable nymphing leaders. I’m not going to get in-depth into the rods and tackle needed for upstream nymphing other than to say that you are going to want a good long 10 or 11 foot rod in the 2 or 3wt class and a lightweight reel to accompany it. Essentially you are looking for something that is long and sensitive enough to give you more control of your drift and keep you in touch with your flies at all times and it has to be light enough to not cramp your arms from holding it up all day. Soft rods are essential for the sensitivity needed for upstream nymphing.

Why Upstream? – There’s quiet a few reasons why we fish upstream. Fishing upstream will always give us an advantage and at times we can even selectively target the better fish by singling out and presenting our nymphs to the better fish which with close attention to detail can be observed feeding on nymphs.

Stealth – A stealthy approach is necessary for all types of fly fishing but even more so for nymphing. By choosing to fish upstream we already have an advantage when it comes to stealth, trout have a 30 degrees blindspot to the rear so as long as we are careful and stealthy in our approach we can get very close to a trout without them being able to see us.

While wading if we are wading upstream the gravel, mud and debris is washed downstream well away from the fish we are trying to catch. Take good care to wade slowly and quietly and in shallow clear water crouch down and even kneel in the water if necessary.

Watercraft – Without a doubt watercraft is the single most important thing to learn to become successful at catching trout and it’s something we probably never stop learning no matter how long we’ve been fishing. As important as watercraft is for all fly fishing methods it is even more important for fishing subsurface as we can’t always see where the fish are feeding so we are going to need to learn how to read the water and to identify fish holding areas because simply put if they are not there we can’t catch them. And we can easily scare away the fish by wading through prime fish holding spots to cast to areas that will not hold any fish. While this is an ongoing learning curve for all anglers the upstream nymphing angler will develop a good understanding watercraft much quicker than any other fly fishing method simply because they have to! With no rising fish to give their location away it is more difficult at first glance but over time you will build up a better picture of what to look for to identify fish holding areas.

Presentation – Underwater presentation is a much different affair than fishing above the surface. There’s a lot more involved and a lot more to consider such as water depths, desired depth, sink rates, river bed contours, structure, speed of flow, water clarity etc.

The key to success is to cast your nymphs to the most likely looking spots but it’s not as simple as that. You will also need to make sure your nymph is at the required depth when it passes the likely looking holding spot. Another factor to take into consideration is the weight of your nymph and how quickly it will sink. You want it to get down to the trout. Touching bottom now and then is ideal whereas dredging the bottom is no good because you will just keep getting snagged on the bottom. I’m the summer or months or just before a good hatch an unweighted nymph fished higher in the water is also very successful.

Light tippets will allow your nymphs to sink quicker whereas thicker diameter tippets will offer resistance to the water tension and make your nymphs sink slower. But if you go too fine you will risk losing a lot of your flies in snags and possibly some fish if they take aggressively which sometimes can be the case .

When the rivers are high or flooded or when you are fishing deeper runs extra weight can be necessary to get your get your nymphs down to the fish. This can be done by adding splitshot to your leader but it is not necessary because by selecting a heavy weight nymph such as Perdigones or any nymphs that are heavily weighted with lead wire on the underbody you should be able to get your nymphs down to where you want them.

Opportunistic Feeders – While it is true that trout are opportunistic feeders that does not mean that they will swim around all day looking for food and take anything put in front of them. What it really means is that they will take up station in a lie that will naturally present great opportunities for drifting food morsels and afford them sanctuary from predators. They always lie facing into the current and often the best lies will be in between weed beds, behind rocks or boulders , in deep depressions or holes in otherwise shallow water, around bridges, and other natural or man made structure. It’s no coincidence that the biggest trout will always inhabit the best spots.

These features will offer the trout a few advantages. Safety from predators, respite from strong currents and most important of all it provides them a comfortable place to hold up in and to wait for the current to deliver their food like a conveyer belt without having to waste energy battling the current or without having to keep fleeing due to being visible to predators. Their only concern is survival. And to survive it needs to conserve energy as much as possible. A nymph drifting downstream towards the fish with the current is an easy meal that will require very little energy for the fish to catch.

Sight Fishing – When the river or stream is clear or low we can often clearly see the trout feeding in between the weed beds or in other trout holding areas. It can be a great method during the summer months when the trout are reluctant to rise to the surface on warm sunny days but they will often take a small suggestive nymph delicately cast to upstream of their lie and allowed to drift down to them . Small size 18 or 20 pheasant tail nymphs are ideal for this kind of situation.

Polarised sunglasses should be worn for any kind of fly fishing really but they really are essential for upstream nymphing. They cut out the surface glare and allow you to see into the water much clearer than what the naked eye can see.

Sometimes you will be able to see the whole drift and the take depending on water clarity but often you will just see the white of its mouth opening to take the fly.

This type of upstream nymphing is every bit as satisfying as dry fly fishing and every bit as skillful too.

The Drift – As with any other method of fly fishing the drift is of utmost importance as it is how the fly drifts that determines wether a fish will eat it or refuse it and in the case of fishing with nymphs even be able to see our nymphs .

We need to track our nymphs downstream with our rod tip and make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we always maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Indicators – Throw them in the bin!!! Seriously, indicators will only prevent you from becoming a better nympher. They will cause your nymphs to drift at the speed of the surface which is faster than the current on the river bed thereby hindering your presentation. Also they won’t help you in the long run when it comes to being able to detect takes and they can also slow down your ability to learn watercraft and become a better nympher.

By indicators I am taking about those bobber style indicators and not the indicator line used for euro nymphing, French Nymphing, Czech nymphing etc. Those indicator lines are a different story as they don’t hinder your presentation and you don’t become reliant on them to be able to detect takes.

The Take – Unlike fishing with dry flies we can’t always see the take with nymphs so we need to be in tune with our other senses. By touch we can feel the take and this is the essence of upstream nymphing. To be able to do that we need to keep in contact with our flies at all times. This is another reason why we make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Sometimes takes can be very aggressive, sometimes they can be explosive splashed on the surface as the fish takes the nymphs but more often than not they are very subtle and usually you will just feel a slight pluck and other times you will only see a slight hesitation on the leader or fly line on the surface. When upstream nymphing always strike at anything out of the ordinary no matter how subtle. A good upstream nympher will have what can only be described as a sixth sense. Someone watching might be wondering what they are striking at and how they knew there was a take but somehow they just knew . It’s impossible to explain but in time most successful nymphers develop this skill.

Matching The Hatch – When we talk about matching the hatch most anglers only think about dry fly fishing or to some extent wet fly fishing but it can be equally as important with nymph fishing. There’s certainly times when trout are selectively feeding on a specific species of nymphs.

Size Matters – The size of your fly is always of the utmost importance and it’s no different with fishing nymphs. For early and late season the majority of nymphs will be on the large side , size 14 and 16. Mid season and high summer the majority of nymphs will be very small , size 18 and 20 and sometimes even smaller! Naturally there’s going to be a few exceptions such as caddis nymphs and especially the cased caddis which is generally around a size 8 or 10 . And the Mayfly (ephemera danica) nymph which again is usually around a size 8 or 10 .

Fly Selection – Nymphs generally fall into 3 categories: realistic, suggestive or attractors. Realistic nymphs are to exactly imitate a particular nymph species. Suggestive nymphs are ones that are suggestive of a wide range of natural nymphs such as the well known classic Pheasant Tail nymph or Hare’s Ear Nymph. They will have characteristics of a few different types of nymphs but without exactly matching any one in particular. Attractor nymphs are usually bright flashy nymphs such as Perdigones and are often more designed to sink quicker rather than to imitate any kind of natural nymphs although sometimes they can loosely do so.

In recent years due to water pollution, pesticides from farms, siltation of the rivers and other factors, the fly hatches aren’t what they once were and often dry fly fishing and the evening rise can be very hit and miss. This is a big part of why upstream nymphing is becoming more popular. And at the rate the fly hatches seem to be deteriorating it is highly likely that the future of fly fishing in our rivers and streams will be more nymph fishing than anything else. The competition scene is already dominated by nymphing these days and the reason for that is simple, upstream nymphing gets the results.

Some suggestions for nymphs:

Cased caddis:

Mayfly (ephemera danica):

Gammarus:

Hare’s Ear:

Perdigon:

Beadhead PTN:

Copper John’s:

Red Spinner (Variant )

Step By Step instructions to tie a variant of the Red Spinner.

The Red Spinner is the spinner of the Large Dark Olive (Baetis Rhodani). This wet fly imitates the spent spinners being carried downstream under the water surface. It is most useful early season in the early afternoon or anytime you see the large dark olive spinners on the water. It is best fished on the top dropper. It is the largest of the olive species and a size 12 or 14 hook is the right size.

I prefer to use teal flank or mallard flank than the traditional wing slips because they are much more durable and unlike the wing slips they will last for more than just a couple of fish.

Recipe:

  • Hook: size 12 or 14 kamasan b175 or similar
  • Thread: Black 8/0
  • Tail: Greenwells or furnace hen fibres
  • Body: red 1 ply uni floss
  • Rib: fine silver wire
  • Hackle: Greenwells or furnace hen
  • Wing: teal flank or mallard flank
  • Head: black varnish

Tie in the tail . The tail should be roughly the same size as the body.

Tie in the red floss and fine silver wire then run your thread up to where the body ends just before the point where you will tie in your hackle. Making sure you leave enough room for the hackle, wing and head.

Wind the red floss body towards you up to where the body ends.

Wind on the rib in even open turns away from you in the opposite direction that the floss body was wound on.

Pull the fibres of the hackle out 90 degrees from the stem and tie in by the tip.

Cut off the tip, bring your thread to the point where you want the hackle to end , leaving enough room for the wing and the head. Wind on three turns of the hackle stroking the fibres back as you wind. Tie off the stem and cut the stem. Tidy up with a couple of thread turns.

Remove the flue from the teal flank feather and pull the fibres out to 90 degrees on one side of the feather

With your thumb and finger hold the feather tips tightly and tear away from the stem. Stroke the fibres to get them to lock together again.

Keep a firm grip of the teal fibres and fold in half widthways.

Keep a firm hold and fold again.

Strike the fibres to encourage them to take on the desired shape. Then place them on top of the hook shank at the desired length and tie in with the pinch and loop method.

Cut off the excess and bring your thread back up to the base of the wing tidying up the head area as you go

Whip finish and apply a coat of black varnish with a dubbing needle.

When All Else Fails…..

This season has been a disaster so far with the rivers in constant flood since opening day. My local rivers are unfishable at the moment due to being too high and too coloured. The pike are currently spawning on a lot of the lakes I fish so it’s time to leave them alone for a while. But when all else fails there’s always stockie bashing to fall back on.

There’s a private estate near my house that I have permission to fish . I mostly fish the river that runs through it for the stunning wild brown trout in there but four years ago the pond there was stocked with rainbow trout. The owner has kindly given me permission to fish there whenever I want. In the four years that these fish have been there this is only my fifth time fishing for them. And there’s nobody else fishing for them either. Most of these fish have never seen a hook before and all the fish are in pristine condition.

These rainbows might be stocked but they have been there four years now and they are feeding on natural food only and are not fed on pellets or anything else. Cracking the code on the day is what it’s all about. And today what they wanted was streamers retrieved very slowly. Something with a bit of flash to make it show up in the fairly coloured water due to recent floods. Takes were very lazy affairs , very gentle but often confident. Some times they would just nip at the tails which was frustrating at times but more often than not they would slowly inhale the fly. With the help of my polarised sunglasses I could see most of the takes too which added to the fun.

There’s quite a few snags in the pond such as trees , weed, and manmade structures so strong tackle is needed for being able to bully them out of snags when necessary and trust me these fish know every single snag in the pond. I was going to use a 5wt rod but decided to use a 7wt instead and I was glad I did in the end. I landed around 20 rainbows today and I am sure I would not have been able to land all of those on a 5wt because a good few of the fish were caught very close to snags and dove straight for the snags when hooked so that extra power was needed to turn them away from the snags immediately.

This pond gets choked with weed in the summer months and it can be difficult to fish when it gets like that but seeing as nobody else will be fishing there and I always have the place to myself, finding a few fish to cast to in between the weeds is never too much of a problem.

I experimented a lot today with different flies and I found that woolly bugger type flies worked the best so long as they were retrieved very slowly. Colours were not that important today but a nice bit of flash in the fly did help make a difference. Size also made very little difference today although the last time I fished there small flies worked best but today that wasn’t the case.

It might be a small stocked pond but it is very peaceful and very natural looking and full of wildlife including swans, kingfishers, pine martens, red squirrels , pheasants and an abundance of many species of birds which makes it a real pleasure to fish there.

Although it is never going to be as satisfying for me as fishing for wild trout or pike on the fly it was great to get out and wet line and make the most of the unusually nice weather today. All the fish were all well over 2lbs and some were right lumps over 5lbs and they put a nice bend in the rod on a day when the rivers were unsuitable for fishing. Sure what more could you want?

Interview with Peter Driver

In this months interview series we have Peter Driver who is an excellent well known Irish fly angler, fly tier, guide, fly tying materials supplier and fly fishing tackle supplier who is based in Kilkenny.

Hi Peter, could you start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hi all, my name is Peter Driver and for as long as I remember I have been a fly fishing fanatic. I originally come from Rathdrum in Co Wicklow but I am living in Kilkenny now and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t say I strive for perfection in my fishing ability but I crave knowledge and to be learning more about this intriguing and ever developing sport. Also there is nothing more I enjoy than sharing some newly discovered knowledge to any one that will listen to me ramble on.

What are your earliest memories of fly fishing Irish rivers for trout?

Fly fishing is in my family, my dad and uncles are all passionate anglers. So I was introduced to fly fishing very early. I can vaguely remember being stood on the bridge of the Avonmore River in Rathdrum to watch the evening rise of fish while being explained to about what I was looking at. The club in Rathdrum always had and still does have a proactive approach to fly fishing and developing youths, so at a young age I was introduced through the clubs Saturdays mornings youth sessions with the senior members of the club.

What’s your favourite Irish river to fish and why?

While there are some amazing rivers around Kilkenny that I really enjoy fishing. The Avonmore River in Wicklow will always hold a special place in my heart, for several reasons. It is undoubtedly the most stunning river I have ever fished in Ireland. It is by no means an easy river to fish, slippy rocks and hard caught fish make it very challenging, but that is the kind of river I like anyway. I spent most of my youth on this river and still today when I return to it I get a sense that I am back in the days of a young lad adventuring through the woods discovering a new pool or big trout, I enjoy reminding myself of those days now and agin.

Do you think there’s a difference between how prolific fly hatches are now on Irish rivers compared to when you first got into fly fishing and is there a difference in the numbers, quality and average size of trout on the rivers you fish?

Yes I definitely think that the affects of pollution, farming, forestation, cormorants and other prey and invasive fish species among others has had a profound effect on the rivers quality and its inhabitants.  I also think that a nostalgic memory is common for all anglers throughout the generations. My dad regularly tells stories to me of all the great trout in the rivers in his day and now I tell similar stories to the younger generations that the rivers are now nothing compared to what they used to be.  However, poor water quality and poor river management on a national level is having huge effects on rivers in Ireland. I fear if a proper national strategy is not developed we will see the decline of our fresh waters even more.

You are getting a great reputation as “the man to go to if you want hooks and beads” through your online store Piscari-Fly . But you also sell quite a good range of top quality fly tying materials, can you tell us a bit about the products available and how you got involved with Piscari-Fly? 

As a passionate fly fisher and dresser having the right gear and materials the way I wanted it was always something that I searched for, right beads for the right hooks and so on. It was something that I spent a lot of time working out and I guess when I began to bring in my own stuff I wanted to share it with others that I fish with and it just took off from there really. I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to hooks and beads and I tried and tested a lot of beads and hooks before I got them right and was finally happy with them. Also as a fly tier I like to tie on the best hooks and use the best beads I can for my customers.

So since the start I was always looking to develop my business and offer more products mostly to do with nymph fishing to anglers of Ireland at a good price. Everything that I have to date in the business is stuff I use myself and I think that is important when recommending the products to my customers. It is something that I hope will continue to grow and develop with the great support of anglers in Ireland.

You are also involved with Syndicate which now have a great reputation for being excellent quality rods, particularly the light nymphing rods. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about?

As everything else I am doing and selling it begins with me always looking for something to improve my fishing first, then if my discoveries are good I share through my business. I was researching 2 weight rods and came across Syndicate and some great reviews in various forums about their ability, weight and of course cost for a great rod. I couldn’t justify the price of other 2 weights on the market and I was not mad about some of them I had tried. So everything about this Syndicate rod and the ethos of the company justified the very competitive price and so I bought one.

The moment I put the rod together I knew it was exactly what I was looking for and after fishing it for a few days I was compelled to email the company to say how nice the rod was. Following a series of emails it was decided by the guys from Syndicate they wanted to meet and got on a plane to Ireland, after that week Syndicate Ireland began.

Syndicate is not just a rod company; it is a family, one that I am very proud to be part of. It is not just another rod company that want your money and offers little else. Apart from the great warranty they offer and top class rods, they have great plans for the future for Irish anglers and really want to invest in the youths of our sport. So there is some exciting stuff to come from the guys.

You offer a range of tuition and services including guiding, casting instruction and coaching. Can you tell us a bit more about that and also do you see many world class anglers coming up in the Irish youth team? 

As I have said since the first question there is nothing more I like to do than share the knowledge I have gathered over the years from travelling and competing. I really enjoy meeting a young angler that is mad to learn and will put in the time to develop their skills as I did many years ago and still do today. But like a lot of other sports youth involvement is on the decline in fly fishing too. We do have some great and exciting young angler coming through the ranks in clubs, however, keeping them in the sport is difficult and the majority of them move on to other sports or interests. In some ways there is little encouragement for them to stay in the sport only for the love of it.

You’ve also competed yourself in World and European Fly Fishing Championships as well as many other competitions over the years. What would you think are the biggest changes to the competition scene now compared to when you first got involved with the competition scene?

Oh there have been unreal developments in competition fishing over the years since I began in the World Championships Sweden in 2000. This year I am the captain of the Irish team heading to the World Championships in Italy in September and what I see now is anglers from around the World who are athletes and spend a lot of time and focus on their body and training for this level of fishing. Competition fishing at this level has a lot involved in it, psychically and psychologically for a competitor; so most of the guys at the top address these and really put a lot of work into a lot more than just their fishing techniques.

Then you have the developments in fishing gear and fly-tying materials when I went to Sweden we didn’t use 2 weight rods or have any great understanding of modern nymphing that exists nowadays. I guess now with social media platforms emergence a lot has changed as information is readily accessible for anyone who wants to learn.

Have you any advice you could offer for someone who might be thinking about getting involved in competition fly fishing?

I love competition fly fishing, I find it pushes me to develop and learn to be better. But it also has a great social side to it; I have met some great people over the years through competitions home and abroad. It also gives an angler the opportunity to travel to destinations around the world that you might not have been to if you were just a pleasure angler. I would advise anybody wishing to get involved in competitions to begin by linking up with some other anglers that are involved in the scene. The best place to start is to look to your local clubs and see what competitions they might have, these will give you a taste of what competitions are like; they are for some and other anglers find that they don’t like them. If you do enjoy them then I would recommend keeping things simple and focusing on the small details of your fishing and the results will come.

I will say that it is a great experience representing your country in World and European competitions, and one that I would encourage other anglers to try and have a go at some stage of their fishing life.

As a full time fly tyer you obviously know a thing or two about flies. Do you still tie for pleasure and can you share with us a couple of your favourite flies for Irish river trout?

Over the years I have tried to simplify my patterns and approaches to catching fish as much as I can and I am catching just as much now or more even with simple flies and less flies in my boxes.  I love fly-tying and I could sit at the desk for 12 hours straight no problem several days a week. I often say that I could give up fly fishing if I had to but I could never give up fly tying.

I do a lot of commercial tying but I also make time for my own tying and experimenting with old patterns trying to make them more productive or trying out new materials I have found somewhere. I often get together with a few friends and we have fly-tying sessions sharing and developing our skills, they are a bit of fun and great for sharing and learning.

Here are a few well proven patterns that always gets fish for me….I like a bit of a soft hackle on my nymphs

You are probably better known as a nymphing man. Is the majority of your fishing with nymphs or do you also enjoy other methods too?

I have spent a lot of time nymphing and it would be my go to method, but as a competition angler you must be able to fish all methods and fish them well. I like to fish all other methods just as much as nymph fishing, and there is something special witnessing a nice fish coming up to your dry fly. I was born and bred wet fly fishing and still enjoy trying to outsmart trout with a couple of spiders swinging them down and across the river. I think it is important for a angler to fish all methods as some days one will out fish the other and it can get boring going onto the water fishing the same way all the time, you are not developing or learning that way.

You have fished in many different parts of the world. Which countries outside of Ireland did you enjoy fishing the most and is there any country in particular that you keep returning to for pleasure fishing?

I have been to countless destinations over the years and a few always draw me back time and time again. Poland and the River San is a common destination for me, as too the River Dee in Wales. However fishing in Slovenia is something special, and I try and get there at least one time a year. This place not only has good sized fish, with several species but the scenery here is amazing and the people are so welcoming, I would recommend it to everyone to get there at some time of there lives.

We often here about things not being as good as they used to be for trout fishing in Ireland with pollution, poaching and declining fly hatches in particular. But can you see any positive changes in recent years?

I do see that catch and release is much more widely practiced across the country. Social media campaigns have assisted its popularity and it is a good thing. There still is some who wish to take a couple of fish for the table and that is not too bad,  but there is others that  will kill a lot more than they need and it does have an impact. The exposure of pollution and other negatives on social media do raise good awareness to the problems but I think the action to remedy the problems is just not there.

Besides fishing related things do you have any other hobbies?

Very little, I live, eat and breathe fly fishing. I do some training in the gym and some running but that is related to fishing too for competitions and to try and stay somewhat fit. I do like a bit of game shooting and I keep Springer’s so I get out with them as much as possible. I used to play a good bit of golf but due to the increase demands of my fishing that went by the way side as few years ago, but I get out now and again sometimes. It is hard to have any other hobbies really when you put in as much time as I do into fly fishing and have a family too. I married the most understanding wife on the planet thank god.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions. The last word is yours. If there’s anything you would like to add please feel free. And tight lines for 2018!!

Thanks for the opportunity to give you some insight into my fishing life, I hope you get something from it and if you would like any more information in relation to any aspect please feel free to get in touch. To end, never stop learning, and sharing is learning for us all. Encourage youths to give it a try and do your bit to protect what we have left, or for the next generation it will be a lot less. Safe and tight lines for 2018 to all.

Exclusive Interview With Stevie Munn For Fly Fishing For Trout In Irish Rivers.

Stevie Munn is a man who probably needs no introduction. There’s no doubt he is one of the biggest names in Ireland and indeed internationally when it comes to fly fishing and fly tying . He has agreed to take part in our first of a series of monthly interviews. And no better choice for our first interview than with such a modern day angling legend!

Hi Stevie, could start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself?

Not sure where to start, you can’t pick where your born. I was born in Belfast a long time ago and grew up in the north of the city on the shore road in the shadows of the Cave Hill with my two sisters Lorna and Elaine and my Mother Maureen and my late Father George who was the man that got me into fly fishing when I was very young, probably about 6 or 7 years old and this was probably to keep me off the streets and out of trouble as at the time we lived in a place of turmoil.  I worked in the shipyard from when I was sixteen until I was in my mid-twenties and I have now been working full time in fly fishing just over 26 years.  I have worked for a few companies over the years including a long spell with Hardy and Lennox fly rods and now work full time in angling as a fully insured fishing guide, writer and teacher. I have also appeared in many angling books, magazines and DVDs and give casting demonstrations at angling events all over the world as far as the USA and Argentina. I have been lucky to have fished many places in the world with my job and grew up fishing on the rivers and loughs of Ireland where I now often guide. I run teaching courses in fly fishing in Ireland and host groups to fish in Norway and other parts of the world. I am now Pro Staff for English company Fishing Matters, who own Partridge hooks and sell Regal Vices and Marryat Fly Rods among their various brands. I am also the Irish Rep for Costa Glasses from the USA, which are simply the best and I am also a member of the Semperfli pro team. I am in many fishing clubs and have been a member of The Antrim and District Club nearly all my life which run the largest part of the Co. Antrim river the Sixmile water where I am a club official guide and fish often as it is my home river. I am a fully qualified fly casting and fly-tying game angling instructor and have passed top casting and tying teaching qualifications with GAIA and APGAI -Ireland. I hold a World Record in Fly Casting which was done for charity at the CLA game fair at Blenheim Palace in 2011. I also won fly casting competitions including 2 Accuracy Casting Championships in England in the 1990s.  But that is all work stuff I am basically a guy that loves to fly fish, music, a pint with my mates and motorcycles and hiking in the hills.

What are your earliest memories of fly fishing Irish rivers for trout?

I remember myself and a pal had an old fly rod hidden in a hedge row near our local river the Sixmile water, many times we walked up Grey’s Lane to the Antrim Road to get the bus which we paid for with our dinner money to go to the river instead of going to school, hidden in our school bags we would have a fly reel and a tobacco tin full of flies, we would take it in turns to use the rod,  one of the things I have always liked about fly fishing is that you can travel pretty light. We got away with playing truant like this many times until one day I bumped into my father on the river also fishing but at a time when he was meant to be at work and had also sneaked off, in those days in the shipyard they had a saying “chuck me board in” , every worker had a small wooden board with their own personnel number on it, if you wanted to sneak out early you got one of your work mates to throw your board into the time keepers office for you , which clocked you out at the end of the day, so you lost no pay, you would return the favour for him some day if he needed to go early. Of course if you were caught doing this you would be sacked, but even though it was instant dismissal it was a very common practice. So luckily for me when I did get caught up the river by my Dad, he should not have been there either so we both nodded and fished on as if we were strangers as we both knew if my mother found out both of us would have hell to pay. I must say very luckily for me my father was fly fishing mad and he started my training at a very early age, probably about six, he also taught me to dress simple trout flies on a fly tying vice that he made in the shipyard. He was good with his hands although at times too quick with them, he also made a fly rod from a WW2 tank aerial which I still have, this was heavy but worked and with this rod I learnt to cast, which now sounds quite amazing when you think how light today’s rods are made from modern materials like carbon fibre. My Dad taught me to fly cast in a field. I had to cast a fly into a bucket while holding a book under my rod arm. If the book fell I got a wee clip round the ear or if I ducked which I often did, he told me off until I got it right, maybe not the way you would teach kids today or even how you would now teach fly casting but it worked for me and I spent many very happy hours casting at a tin bucket on Grey Mount Girls School hockey pitch, which was at the back of my house, to the amusement of many of the other kids in the area, some of them would shout at me while I practiced my casting ‘  Hey Manner  are you having any luck’ or ‘if you get a fish keep us one ye prick’ of course these kids where only messing about, in Belfast you call it banter, but they would not have shouted if my Dad was there. In those days kids really were afraid of their elders, as your elder would often hit you a kick up the ass or even worse bring you round to your parents by the ear and let them deal with you for giving back cheek, but I did not care what the other kids thought or said  I knew that fly fishing was for me and was a noble and beautiful  thing to do even at a young age.

Do you think there’s a difference between how prolific fly hatches are now on Irish rivers compared to when you first got into fly fishing and is there a difference in the numbers, quality and average size of trout on the rivers you fish? What’s your favorite Irish river to fish and why?

Sadly, on some but not all the rivers we have pollution and have lost in places good trout habitat due to bank erosion and importantly including loss of water crowfoot weed beds from some river stretches. This has influenced parts of the rivers I fish which of course effects fly life and in turn trout size. Luckily my local rivers like the Sixmile water get a run of Lough Neagh trout called Dollaghan which run our rivers from summer to spawn. These trout can provide great sport at times and can grow into massive trout with every year some double figure fish caught. I have fished for these fish all my life and have landed 1000s of them. As for my favourite river   My family always considered the Six Mile Water as our river, I latter found out this is something that happens to anglers the world over, they become attached to a piece of water and there is a part of themselves that then claims it. It’s a kind of strange ownership, the great American angling writer John Gierach also explains this weird phenomenon in his book Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing in a chapter called “Id fish anyone’s St Vrain.” If you read that book you will know exactly what I mean when I say the Six Mile Water is my St Vrain.

You are well known throughout the world for the work you have done in fly fishing with your writing, fly tying and casting demos. But also, importantly in the last eight years for being the man behind the fantastic Irish Fly Fair in Galway’s Salthill every year. Can you tell us how that came about?

For numerous years I wanted a high-quality fly fair and game angling show in Ireland. I always thought that our art and passion was never well enough represented in this part of the world, though many have tried and done their best and I must say some have been very good that I worked at. Although normally game angling and fly dressing have continually shared with other angling disciplines, I always thought the country deserved a proper game angling and fly fair like those I had demonstrated at many times in the U.K , Holland and Germany. After all it’s one of the biggest sports in the country. So, several years ago I bought the domain name Irish Fly Fair and started thinking how I could make this dream come true. I have worked at hundreds of angling and country shows over the years, so I had the contacts, I knew so many wonderful fly tyers, fly casters, traders and well-known names in the angling world and they knew me, so I had the basic plan, but what I needed was funders and sponsors or even better very good event organizers to team up with me. I wanted a top class to show but never had the money to put into it to make it what I required. This opportunity arose when I was working at a show in Dublin , the Angling Ireland Expo , and met Hugh Bonner from Mara Media who were running this show; I must say they are excellent event organizers and impressed me immensely. The old Irish Angler magazine editor David Dinsmore knew I owned the name and suggested I talked to Mara Media, so I did and our first meeting which went pretty good though Hugh did not agree to anything there and then but suggested we should meet again after he got his head around the idea. On the next meeting Hugh and Grace McDermott from Mara’s sales team both attended and we all agreed that we should work together on the show. We then started thinking about venues I originally wanted to have the show in Belfast or Dublin because of their large populations as I wanted a good turnout at the door as I knew this is how to keep the traders and everyone connected with the event happy as I have had a lot of experience from that side of the fence. I wanted it when the game fishing season was over also for that reason but Hugh suggested that perhaps Galway would be an excellent venue for a game angling show and the more i thought about it ,the more it seemed to make perfect sense. The West, although it is in the midst of so much great game angling with world famous names like Corrib, Mask, Conn, Galway weir ,the Moy and the Delphi to name just a few, this part of Ireland had never had a great angling show and this one would be dedicated to Game Angling which the West of Ireland has been a Mecca for hundreds of years for Trout and Salmon anglers.
I wanted this show to have some of the best attractions for game anglers not just a show that the public paid into to browse angling shops, although trade stands are a major part of any show and it’s a great place for the anglers to get a deal on some new tackle but also with a large foot fall good for the trade stands who want to show off their products. I wanted a mix of top quality trade stands, fly casting demos, common interest stands, teaching, talks, fishing simulators, competitions and at its core a large host of the best fly dressers in the World that would keep the public entertained and pass on their knowledge. So, this is what the Mara Media team and I went about trying to create.

The Venue for the show had to be impressive too. I wanted elegance, style and comfort for all that attended the show, the guys and girls that were working and demonstrating and the public alike, so Hugh suggested we used the Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill, and what a venue it is overlooking Galway Bay and the Clare Hills. It is an Award winning 4-star hotel considered by many to be one of the top hotels in Galway. It has a massive function room which would be prefect for trade stands and a huge conservatory which would be fabulous for fly dressers to give demos. So that’s where we have it .On the first morning of the show everything was in place we had an impressive list of fly tyers from all over the world, though with a strong Irish back bone, we had a large number of trade and interest stands, we had our fly casters and angling instructors, we had our well known angling celebrities, we had our experts like Dr Ken Whelan to give talks. We had everything in place to run our event, after many months of planning and hard work by me, my sister Elaine who built the web site and the Mara Media team. We had promoted it to the best of our ability at great expense to Mara Media, with me pulling some favours from my contacts in the angling world. I remember standing at the front door alongside Hugh silently praying for the game angling public to arrive. I had not slept the night before the show, I was so worried that all our hard work, effort and money was going to be in vain, I remember standing at 10.15am 15 minutes after the doors had opened thinking “S##t’ what have I done!”. But then suddenly people started turning up and the door numbers became great , the interest in the show from anglers was incredible and they came from all corners of the Isle and many even from overseas. Mara Media left the event after two years simply to work on their other events and on good terms. Then it was up to me solely. I pulled in my family and some of my friends and together with their invaluable help from this Team was able to run the show the last 7 years. It is now hailed as one of the major fly fishing events in the world and every year goes from strength to strength. It’s not easy though as it takes a year to organise, but it is worth it when you see the joy it brings to so many.  You can read the feedback on our web site http://www.irishflyfair.com.  See you all there in November dates are now booked 10th & 11th at the Galway Bay Hotel.

You have a great reputation for guiding both at home and abroad. How would you compare the fishing in Ireland to places like Norway or Iceland?

We have great fishing in Ireland and are very lucky .I can only really talk about rivers I fish or guide on and there is many I have not fished in Ireland that this won’t apply to them. Our local rivers can be quite busy as they are very accessible , of course you can’t blame anyone for wanting to fish and it works if the anglers treat each other with respect and use some common sense and learn to use some angling etiquette and do not hog the best spots . Places like Iceland and Norway where I host guided fishing each year are sparely populated not as busy and don’t suffer as much or at all from pollution. It’s really wilderness fishing and wonderful this said we still have fabulous fishing at home and as I have stated I love my home rivers more than most.

Would there be anything positive with Irish rivers that you might not get in other countries?

We are very lucky to have very affordable fishing that is very accessible, it really can be a sport for everyone. This has a lot to do with the great work that many fishing clubs do to look after the rivers and we should not forget that, and the highest praise must be given.

You are now sponsored by Marryat Fly Rods. I can tell you genuinely believe their rods are excellent and the Marryat Tactical Pro nymphing rod has a great reputation with nymphers in Ireland and abroad. Would you tell us a little about their range of rods?

Marryat series of rods are the fusion of years of technical research by the Institute of Technology Lausanne, fishing know-how from world champions fly fishers Pascal Cognard and Jérôme Brosutti and the touch master rod builder Alain Ourtilani using innovative components. First and foremost, these are fishing rods! They are good at casting a long line with tight loops but don’t be fooled, there is more to fishing than just distance. From the moment you get a Marryat rod in your hand you can tell that it is different – it is very light and quite tippy when you feel the action but also, they bend in the butt section which is very important and many anglers seem to forget that this makes them great for roll casting also, so you can cast it all day. Its modern action makes it powerful, fast and accurate , yet it is sensitive and responsive enough to fish dry fly and nymph on the fine tippet at close quarters. When you hook a fish, you will immediately realise why these rods are different – sensitivity, unlike other good casting rods, Marryat rods are designed to play a trophy fish on fine tackle without the risk of losing it to stressed tippet! I really love some of them. I am very lucky to work with these great rods now and if anyone is interested in them you can email me at : anglingclassics@aol.com

You are obviously a man who likes to keep himself busy with your love for angling. Could you tell us a bit more about other stuff to do with fly fishing that you are involved in?

My first love is trout on rivers as that’s what I grew up doing. This said I love catching all migratory species like Salmon, Sea trout or Dollaghan. I also love fishing the big Irish Loughs every year such as Erne, Corrib and Sheelin (which I have fished for over 20 years) . This all said I also like a spot of fly fishing for pike and saltwater fly fishing. I guess I like anything that I can use a fly rod for “the tug is the drug” as they say.

It’s certainly not easy for anyone to earn a living out of fly fishing currently. At what point did you decide to take the brave step to give up your day job and try to make a go at trying to earn a living out of the sport that has become your whole life?

That’s a very long story and it was not out of choice I fell into it perhaps I can tell you some day, but after having an accident in the shipyard at 27 I could not go back due to injury. I was tying a lot of flies and started selling to a few shops, just trying anything to pay bills and survive I also started guiding around then. I was also tying at a few local country fairs and it was at one of these I met an English man called Dave Havers. He runs a company called Tackle Bargains and at the time we also sold tackle for Mitchell’s of Pitlochry, Dave asked me if I wanted to tie at his stand at Scone Palace at the Scottish Game Fair. I went with him and he paid me, and I could sell my flies . He sold everything from knives to rods and everything in between. At Scone he got busy, so I helped selling and then he asked me “can you cast? Take that guy and let him try that rod”, which was a Scott. Once Dave saw me casting he said “right no more fly tying , you sell rods and I will pay you for working at the shows”. In those days in the U.K you could be on the road all summer doing country fairs, we did loads of them for years maybe 20 to 30 per year. I met many people then Dave became too busy with his on-line business to do many shows, but we knew many people by then that worked in the industry from the shows. So, I took a job with Lennox fly rods which was then run by the late Allen Brown who also worked for Bruce and Walker, after Allen passed away I worked with World Sport Fishing selling fishing holidays for a while Stared Angling Classics which my sister helped me with. Then was asked to join Hardy and ended up doing a lot of their casting demos. Then after a long time moved to Partridge and Marryat where I am now as well as running the Irish Fly fair and teaching fly casting and guiding.

In recent years it can really seem like it’s all doom and gloom with declining fly hatches, pollution, poaching etc. Is there anything positive that you can see in recent times?

Yes, most anglers now seem to practice catch and release only taking the occasional fish for the pan. If this is done right it certainly helps wild stocks. When I was young everyone fished for food.

Would you share with us a couple of your favorite flies for Irish river trout?

I have many and love lots of patterns new and old. I also love the tradition and history of old patterns too and I think this is something that is wonderful about our sport. I am , like many fishing for feeding trout in rivers , all about matching the hatch. My favourite river fly is still and always has been the Greenwell in all its variations, probably not only is it still a great fly when olives are on the water but because it was my fathers favoured fly and I have so many great memories of us fishing it together.

I know you used to sing when you were young in rock bands and like myself you have a passion for music. Is this a big part of your life too and are there any other non-fishing activities you also enjoy doing?

Music is a massive part of my life and always will be, though now it’s more going to gigs and listening to it. I love all types of music still it can be Folk, Rock, Blues, Metal, Soul, R&B, Classic and Punk. The well-known American singer song writer Steve Earl, I think hit the nail on the head when he said “there is only two types of music , good and bad “. I also love as I have said motorcycles, cars, hiking in the hills with my wife and weekends out with my mates in Belfast. Pretty Normal stuff.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions, that’s great. The last word is yours. If there’s anything you would like to add please feel free. And tight lines for 2018!!!

Just look after the country side the best you can never litter and try to be kind to your fellow man, oh and try not to judge others and tight lines to you for 2018.

Stevie Munn. can be contacted for guiding on the Sixmile Water or hosted trips to Norway. And for casting demos for events and shows and teaching fly casting.

anglingclassics@aol.com  

www.anglingclassics.co.uk

Fly fishing for pike: basic set up

I often get asked about my setup for fly fishing for pike and leaders and traces in particular so I thought it might be useful for some people if I put it into my blog.

As with most things with any type of fly fishing I’m a big believer in keeping things as simple as possible. The less complicated your setup is the less to go wrong really. And my pike fly fishing setup really is as simple as you can get.

Rod choice is important because you will be using it to cast big flies all day. With that in mind that is exactly what dictates which weight class of fly rod I choose for me. I choose to use a 10# . The main reason is because I like to use big flies for pike usually on 5/0 and 6/0 hooks so I need something that’s going to be capable of effortlessly casting those big and sometimes heavy flies all day long. And a 10# does the job perfectly for that as well as having that extra power when needed for playing large pike especially on a boat or float tube. Many people use 8# or 9# rods and they are perfectly acceptable for the job. But personally I prefer the extra power for casting large flies. Rod length is also an important consideration. I prefer a 9 foot rod so it’s more versatile for me wether I want to use it on a boat , float tube or on the bank. I won’t go into brand names here because everyone will have a different opinion based on their own needs and casting style. But there’s a lot of choice out there to suit any budget.

Reels are not something I think too hard about really because with pike fishing there’s only a couple of things of importance. Somewhere to store your fly line along with approximately 50 yards of backing. And a good reliable smooth drag . Most popular reel manufacturers brands of reels will be up to the job. It’s rare that a pike will take you into the backing and when it does it won’t be for long . They fight hard but it’s mostly short bursts of speed at a time with each run giving you plenty of time to recover line between each run. So 50 yards of backing is plenty. Another option is cassette reels which are very handy if you have you have a range of different lines and are likely to be changing them throughout the day which really does happen often enough to consider it.

Line choice is a question I get asked often. There is no short answer to this. Depending on the waters you fish will most likely need a few lines . A lot of people turning to fly fishing for pike for the first time often already have an 8# or 9# salmon rod , reel and line . These are acceptable for fly fishing for pike . Often the line is a multi tip or an intermediate which would be fine for canals and some rivers but for deeper rivers and lakes they won’t allow you to reach the necessary depths. But it is important that your line has an aggressive taper for turning over large flies. So a proper purposely made pike fly line will be much better than any salmon line for the job of casting large pike flies . I would recommend getting at least 3 lines. A floating line, a di3 line and a di7 line would cover you for the most of what you are likely to need for rivers , lakes and canals. A floating line is necessary if you want to fish floating flies such as surface poppers which can be really good in the summer months and early autumn. A floating line can also be used for canals and shallower rivers it also has its uses in weedy shallow lakes or parts of lakes even in the depths of winter. If your budget is limited and you can only afford one line at first then a di3 line is a good compromise in a lot of situations and it will be the ideal choice for depths between 3 feet and 8 feet. For deeper water you will need a di7 line . There are heavier sinking lines available and they are useful but these three lines will be enough to get you started.

Leaders as with all fly fishing are very important. Some people like to use fluorocarbon and some people prefer monofilament leaders. Personally I like to use Sunset Amnesia in 30lbs b/s. It’s a very stiff memory free monofilament which is perfect for pike fly leaders. Whatever you decide to use a length of 5 foot from the fly line to your trace is perfect. You don’t want your leader any longer than that because it will cause more resistance against the water and hinder your ability to keep your fly deep on the retrieve.

Traces that are resistant to the pokes sharp razor like teeth are essential for all kinds of pike fishing and fly fishing for pike is no different in that respect. But for fly fishing it needs to be supple enough to cast the fly and also a very useful trait is if it is supple enough to be able to knit it easily instead of having to crimp it. You can buy traces already made up but they work out expensive and they are so easy to make up yourself that it’s a no brainier really. I like to use Ironclaw Authantic Wire which in my opinion is perfect for everything we want from a wire trace for fly fishing for pike. After each fish always check your trace and if there’s any signs of fraying then replace it immediately. But one trace should usually do you for a few fish. I like to have a few already made up in a rig wallet so that I can just change them quickly when necessary without wasting valuable fishing time . After catching a fish or repeat casting the supple traces do tend to coil up a bit. A good form stretch in your hands will take out those kinks. To make a trace cut off a 10″ section of your trace material and at one end make a perfect loop. On the other end simply knot it onto a Mustad Fastach clip . It really is as easy that to make up.

Flies come in a huge range of sizes , shape and colours and all will have their uses. There are some good rules of thumb to help you with fly selection. When water temperature is comfortable for the pike which essentially means when it’s not too hot or too cold then larger flies will work best most of the time. In the summer if the water temperature is quite warm or in the depths of winter when the water is very cold then small flies are necessary. The main reasons for this is because it’s much easier for the pike to digest smaller prey in those uncomfortable temperatures so they will mostly feed on smaller prey when possible. Another rule of thumb is bright day, bright fly and dark day, dark fly. In the case of pike flies bright meaning very flashy and dark meaning less flashy. Think about it from the pines point of view and it will make sense. A bait fish such as rudd or roach has scales which act like a mirror as they change direction and the sun reflects off their scales. So a bright day it will be natural for a pike to see bright flashes of silver, gold or bronze. Whereas a dark day a darker dull silhouette would show up better for the pike and also appear much more natural to them. Some days pike will literally take anything you throw at them but most days are not like that. And sometimes especially in winter the right size and right colour can make all the difference between landing a couple of pike and blanking. So it is essential to have a few different flies in different sizes and different colours.

So I’ve covered rod, reel , lines and flies. How do we connect them together? Again keep it as simple as possible and little will go wrong. My setup is as simple as you can get and it won’t let you down. To the end of the fly line attach a braided loop and use a good waterproof superglue for extra security. On both ends of your 5 foot leader tie a simple perfection loop. To the braided loop attach your leader using the loop to loop method. Connect the trace to the leader by the loop to loop method . Then simply put your fly in the fastach clip and you’re ready to go.

Casting is pretty much all about double hauling. If you don’t already know how to double haul then learn it. There’s plenty of good videos on YouTube or better still get lessons from a qualified casting instructor.

Retrieve will vary with time of year and what the pike want on that particular day. In winter and warm summers it will be a case of fishing deep with small flies and retrieving them as slow as you can. Other times of the year you will have to experiment on the day to find out what it is that they want on that particular day on that particular water.

Striking is also something worth mentioning because pike are different to most other fish in that they have a very bony mouth so you really need to set that hook well. The best technique is to use what they call the slip strike where you strip the line hard to set the hook. I also simultaneously lift my rod and bend into the fish and I find with the combination of those striking techniques that I miss much less takes.