When I was first invited to join a party of anglers who travelled annually to fish the duckfly on Lough Comb, it seemed like a nice relaxing prelude to the fishing season. Lured by their tales and reminiscences of quality wild brown trout caught on small, wet flies at a time of year when I would normally still have not dusted down the rod tubes – late March – I felt I had to take up the invitation. Now, almost 20 years later, I can still vividly remember that first visit, arriving at Lal Faherty’s Lakeland Fishing Centre late in the evening, tired after travelling but too excited to sleep well in anticipation of what the morning would bring.

Hook: B110 or Fulling Mill grub hook.
Thread: Black.
Body: Natural stripped peacock quill over black thread.
Wing buds: Goose biots dyed orange then sunburst.
Thorax: Black thread.
Breathers: Polypropylene yam. White cut short.

2 and 3
Tying as Dressing 1 but substitute body quill for similar dyed in either yellow or red.
Complete with three coats of Hard as Nails varnish.

4 Orange Pupa
Hook: Size 12 or 14 B175 or Fulling Mill heavyweight.
Thread: Orange or claret.
Tag: Silver tinsel.
Body: Pearsall’s orange floss.
Rib: Fine silver wire.
Hackle: Two turns badger hen.
Cheeks: Split jungle cock.

This original Peter O’Reilly Pupa dressing has been around a while but is still one of my favourite patterns. If you have the correct floss body material it should change colour to a darker shade of orange when wet. Fish it on the top dropper or one down to break up a bland cast of Buzzers and, on the right day, it will outfish any other fly on the cast.

5 Black Emerger
Hook: Size 12 or 14 B160 or similar.
Thread: Black.
Body: Black thread.
Rib: Fine silver wire.
Wing: Small pinch natural grey squirrel.
Thorax: Red seal’s fur.
Cheeks: Split jungle cock – under hackle.
Hackle: 2/3 turns natural black hen.

6 As Black Emerger but substitute black body for pearl holograph over black thread. At times that extra bit of flash seems to make a difference. This pattern works best late in the day and is a good standby if the old black and silver isn’t working.

7 and 8 Hutch’s Pennell
Hook: Size 12 or 14 Fulling Mill heavyweight.
Thread: Black.
Tag: Flat silver.
Tail: Golden pheasant tippets dyed red.
Body: Peacock herl. One strand slicked down before ribbing.
Rib: Fine silver wire
Hackle: Black hen with white hen in front. Tied sparse.

Also try this pattern with a body of peacock herl dyed claret and claret hackle. Getting decent materials can be a problem at times, so stick to reliable suppliers who will make that little bit of extra effort, especially when it comes to dyeing.

Over a full Irish breakfast, the boat pairings for the day were decided and I was to be taken out by Dewi Rees – an old hand at the duckfly. On that first beautiful spring morning I was at last exposed to the majesty and enormity of Corrib. We motored out past Ard Point under a soft grey sky and very little breeze and beyond to the imposing Molly’s Rock where we took a sharp right turn. Dewi, having a great nose for rising fish, decided we would take our first few drifts in Birchall Bay, a noted early season area.

True to form, a few fish could be seen rising in a small corduroy ripple downwind of the deep water in the main bay. A few minutes into the first drift and as if on cue, the first rising fish I covered took a size 12 Mallard & Claret with a slow head and tail rise – he weighed around 2lb – and I became instantly addicted to Corrib and duckfly fishing.

During those early years our knowledge of the lough was not great but we still managed some great days and endured some very difficult days. Slowly but surely we began to build up an extensive record of the duckfly ‘holes’ and when and how to fish them depending on the prevailing weather conditions. On reflection, our approach then was very basic by today’s standards as we mostly fished conventional loch style using almost exclusively small wet flies and only resorting to a couple of Pupa patterns if the trout were finning on the surface in a flat calm.

While not suggesting we began the Buzzer revolution on Corrib, I would certainly argue that visiting Welsh and English anglers introducing their successful stillwater Buzzer techniques have made a major contribution towards the present day approach to duckfly fishing and the choice of patterns required. It is also worth considering that the success of duckfly fishing over the last few years may not just be the result of our having a better idea of what’s required to catch the fish. It could also be that the hatches are getting heavier and seem to last longer. My personal opinion is that this is the case, partly supported by respected local fishermen who will argue that Corrib is not as clean as it used to be and that the weed growth in the lough is far greater now.

The word ‘holes’ is slightly misleading as the duckfly areas can be the size of a football pitch or no larger than your front room. Generally, at some part they have a depth of around 10-15ft and can often be easily found as they usually have an accompanying long vine-like weed growing in the silty bottom which is highly visible on the surface. Fish can be caught at any part of the hole but the most productive holding areas are often downwind of the weed or as the hole shelves off onto a shallow. The trout seem to back up in these areas and wait for the pupa or hatching fly to be blown to them.

It’s a widely held theory on Corrib that the duckfly hatch starts in the south end of the lough and gradually moves north. This is not always the case. I’m more inclined to believe it has more to do with prevailing weather and wind direction. It can be no coincidence that most of the first early season hatches are more likely to be in a localised, sheltered, top-of-the-wind situation. Keep an eye on the gulls, as they seem to find fly hatches a lot quicker than anglers.

Over the years I’ve become convinced that after a cold, clear night, the following day’s hatches seem to occur between late morning and late afternoon whereas, after a mild night, it pays to get on the water a bit sharpish the next morning as the first hatch can happen at first light and be very heavy and you can also expect an evening rise at the end of that day.

For the first-time visitor, moving around Corrib’s vast 44,000 acres can seem quite daunting but it’s fairly straightforward and reasonably safe in moderate conditions, provided you take a steady, sensible approach. The prevailing wind and weather on Corrib comes predominantly in from the Atlantic. This being the case, I would always favour the west side of the lough as a base for a spring visit because, except on the days when it’s blowing so hard you don’t want to be out there at all. There are plenty of bays and sheltered areas on this shore to ensure some sport.

I’d recommend the expense of a boatman for the first few days to take the hard work out of trying to find the holes and learning to find your way around the water. Most of the fishing centres have boatmen to call on. If not, pop into any of the bars in Oughterard and you will have access to some of the best gillies in Ireland. Necessary flies and Buzzers and up-to-date advice can be got at Duffy’s or Freeny’s in Galway or Tommy Tuck’s shop in Oughterard.

Most reasonably competent anglers with a fair casting ability should expect to catch trout on duckfly patterns if they are in the general area of feeding fish with the correct ammunition at the end of the line. To my mind, the most important factor on Corrib is boatcraft – a quiet, stealthy approach around the holes will improve your chances of catching fish. Remember that you are trying to catch wild brown trout in very clear water – not (and I quote a very high profile Corrib boatman) “those Mickey Mouse fish you catch in the UK”. I think he means rainbow trout!

Converting pulls to takes
My standard set-up for fishing buzzers on Corrib would be a 9ft 6in or 10ft rod matched with a #6 or #7 floater or midge tip line. I personally feel that the need to cast long distances is of no great advantage when fishing Buzzers and, at times, is a definite disadvantage. Shorter casts will allow you to search the water more fully and takes are easier to detect and connect with, whereas those throwing a long cast can expect swing in the line resulting in more pulls than hooked fish.

Any clear leader material will suffice. I normally use 6Ib or even 8Ib fluorocarbon in certain situations as it sinks faster than monofilament. My standard leader would be about 12ft in length, made up with droppers at 3ft, 6ft and 9ft plus point (see Fig. 1). A four Buzzer cast allows me to fish the levels more efficiently plus the extra concentration of the weight of the Buzzers fished close together will take the cast down more
quickly. A cast of four size 12 Epoxy Buzzers would be my first line of attack but if I felt they were not getting down to the taking depth quickly enough, I would resort to one or two size 10 Buzzers on the point and one up.

Likewise, if the fish began to show on top, or the fish I was catching were predominantly on the top dropper, I would replace the top Buzzer with an Emerger pattern and even consider putting another Emerger on the point to make the cast more buoyant and allow it to fish in the upper layers longer (see Fig. 2).

It’s essential to know how quickly your cast of Buzzers drops through the water. Once this has been established and becomes almost second nature, you can fish into any area – estimating the water depth by eye – allowing the Buzzers to fish on the drop and only starting the slow figure-of-eight retrieve before they hit bottom.

Many takes come on the drop so at this stage it is only necessary to keep up with the fly line in front of the drifting boat. A tip when retrieving: if the fly line between the rod tip and the water is lifting in a straight line (while the Buzzers are on the drop), then you are retrieving too fast. The line should be falling left and right (no retrieve) so that the Buzzers are allowed to drop freely through the water. When they reach the desired depth then the steadier retrieve should begin.

Break up the slow figure-of-eight with a few fast twitches then allow the Buzzers to drop back deadweight. This will often induce a take from a following interested fish when a continual retrieve will produce no reaction. Likewise, and especially on windier days, I have found that deep-fished buzzers swept up with a long draw and then held will also provoke a positive response from following fish.

Match- the-hatch Corrib Buzzers
Epoxy Buzzers come in all sorts of colours and materials. I’m sure that most of them catch fish in the mucky puddles we have in the UK but for Corrib I believe a slightly more imitative approach is necessary.

In the very clear water it’s definitely a case of match the hatch in terms of size, colour and profile. If you’re happy with Flexifloss Buzzers that’s fine, but I’ve found no better material to match the natural pupa body than stripped peacock quill, either natural or dyed in red or yellow, depending on the pattern. Tied in touching turns up the hook shank, they give a beautiful tapering, segmented body shape – not the most durable of materials to match against a trout’s teeth, but three or four coats of Hard as Nails will prolong their life.

I add breathers to all my buzzers and, rather surprisingly for a pattern that I want to sink quickly, I use polypropylene floating yarn. This may seem unnatural but my reasoning relates to the fact that real-life buzzers do not rise and fall in a horizontal position, they do so vertically, so the use of polypropylene ensures that the head end of the Buzzer is fighting to remain erect in a more pupa-like position.

I also use orange goose biots, over-dyed in sunburst in 50% of my buzzer patterns as this colour seems to match in certain light the lovely yellow/orange tinge from the natural pupa as it rises through the water to the surface.