The Eany, Owenea, Gweebarra, Lackagh and Finn are just a few of the rivers where Donegal fly tyer, John McLaughlin (below, right), fishes his attractive flies to good purpose. All these waters have some lovely, fast, streamy fly water, but they also have more sluggish stretches where the hand-lined traditional shrimp fly can come to its own.
John was keen to come up with a pattern that would be effective in either situation and so after some trials the Eany Tailfire evolved some eight years ago. This makes good sense to me because the continual changing of flies as one moves downstream from streamy flows to quieter water is a bit of a bind.
The Mourne Gold Shrimp has, and continues to be, a fine fish taker on the Eany and many other rivers. It gave John, who has been tying flies commercially since 1994, the basis for the colours of the fly with a few more modern materials added. The soft rooster hackles pulsate nicely when the fly is pulled and the gold, orange and black colours look especially good in water which has a bit of colour in it. The fly had its first outing to the Eany over eight years ago when John and his father hooked ten salmon and landed eight between them. Not surprisingly, it has now become his first choice for many rivers and in 2004 he took his first fish of the year on January 5 on this pattern from the Lennon. His friend, Owen Kelly, had the distinction of landing the first fly-caught salmon of 2005 also on a size 6 Eany Tailfire and also from the Lennon on January 2.
Few salmon anglers in Ireland will not have any traditional shrimp fly patterns in their boxes. Many believe Pat Curry’s Red Shrimp was the original ‘shrimp fly’ and it is probably still one of the most successful patterns in all conditions. Naturally, there have been a number of variations and John ties a very attractive and effective one in the form of the Lackagh Red Shrimp. Shrimp flies are particularly effective in slower flowing water where their three hackles move independently when hand lined or the rod tip is moved, giving a sensation of life that attracts not only salmon but sea trout and brownies as well. There are fly dressers who omit the jungle cock from these patterns and there are others who would have absolutely no faith in a shrimp fly without its jungle cock roofing. John comes from the latter camp and there is no doubt that jungle cock adds to the attractiveness of these flies.
It is also extremely important to fish with patterns you have confidence in. Most of us have favourite flies but also know of famous patterns that have caught many fish for others, but which we personally have never managed to hook anything other than weed or a tree on.
The Holographic Silver Cascade is clearly a variation of Ally’s Cascade and is one of John’s favourite patterns for fast, streamy water. He has had particular success with it on the Gweebarra, Moy, Finn and Reelin, and some of his customers will not fish the Mourne with anything else.
Icelandic fly dressers often use silver or gold hooks but this is not so common in this part of the world. Last season, however, John was asked to tie the Holographic Cascade on silver hooks for a couple of anglers who regularly fish the famous Ridge Pool on the Moy at Ballina. They were of the opinion that this variation worked when nothing else was pulling fish. In September, John found himself at the Ridge Pool with his father who was fishing a size 12 Holographic Silver Cascade on silver hooks while John was fishing the same pattern on traditional black hooks. His father hooked six and landed two lovely, fresh fish while he touched nothing. Maybe the Icelandic fraternity know something we do not.
It is one thing to have attractive and proven fish catching patterns but they still have to be presented properly to complete their task. With our changing weather patterns, warmer winters, and, thus, warmer water, you can now often fish with sink tip, intermediate or even occasionally floating lines from January to April. There are some very successful anglers who will always fish with sunk or at least intermediate lines right through the season and John is one of these. It is lovely to catch salmon on a floating line when you can often see the take but perhaps you will get more takes by getting the fly closer to the fish’s nose.
In February this year we visited the Lackagh in north Donegal only to find it running as high and fast as any of us had ever seen it. The Lackagh is a very short river draining Glen Lough, which is fed by the Owencarrow that flows from Lough Beagh (‘The lough of the big wind’ in Sydney Spencer’s books). The result of this is that, as these two loughs are set in mountainous and barren countryside, the water is always clear no matter how high it gets.
Anyway, this was a day that called for rather heavier fast-sinking lines than is usual, and John opted for a Rio fast intermediate with a 10ft extra super-fast Loop sink-tip, and at the end a size 6 Holographic Silver Cascade. It was also a very bright day and perhaps the old maxim of ‘bright day, bright fly’ is not too far off the mark. At the Grilse Pool, the combination of heavy, fast-sinking line and light, bright fly, meant John hooked a fish within ten minutes. After a strong fight in the heavy water, a fresh sea-liced salmon of almost 10lb was duly netted and thus opened the Lackagh’s account for 2006. A case of the right fly, in the right place, on the right day which, rather neatly sums up salmon fishing!