Updated: Apr 18
I first started tying flies when I was about 12 years old. A friend of my father’s Peter Foy was a
master fly-tyer and stories of his skill piqued my interest. I remember visiting Des Powel’s fishing tackle and Jerry Scully’s Guns & Tackle shops and admiring the flies they had for sale. Occasionally when opportunity arose, I visited Galway and always tried to drop in to Feeney’s to admire the flies and see what the West of Ireland flies had to offer.
As I started to investigate what was involved in tying my own flies, I soon learned that fly tying is an art form. In earnest, I bought my first fly tying kit at Anthony Quinn’s Fishing Tackle Shop, but soon realised I hadn’t a clue where to start.
The Cova shop up the road became my library for magazines such as Trout & Salmon, Irish Angler, Fly Fishing and Fly Tying as well as the wealth of knowledge available from the owner Eamon, who took great pleasure in describing the different mayflies that he had had success with over the years. He described how the mayflies had long pheasant tails, light green olive, raffia bodies and plenty of French partridge.
One of my earliest memories of beginning my fly tying journey includes plucking feathers from a drake widgeon given to me by my father. It had been in my granny’s attic and was never properly stuffed. As time went on and after many many hours spent at the vice involving countless thread breaks and feathers all over the place I was starting to get the hang of it. An uncle gave me a present of Peter O’ Reilly’s book “Trout & Salmon Flies of Ireland” and I would try to replicate the beautiful flies in the book as best I could with the level of skill and materials I had.
Around the same time as I was learning to tie my own flies, I was also beginning to dabble with fly fishing, so it was the perfect opportunity to put my flies to the test. One of my first successful flies was a wet mayfly, tied using woodcock in the front hackle covering the green olive. I named it “Greenwood Glory” in honour of the Greenwood shoreline of Lough Ree where I caught a lovely 2 1/2 lb brown trout with it. The Greenwood shore holds a special place in my heart as it is where a lot of time swimming and snorkelling as a young lad with friends and my faithful springer spaniel “Max” and is now a favourite fishing spot.
As my success and skill developed I became in involved in competitive fly tying and secured a place on the Leinster Fly Tying Team and entered the All-Ireland Fly Tying Championship. This was a wonderful but challenging experience. It required huge attention to detail and involved tying two identical flies, not an easy task. This experience, although challenging, contributed to me tying much neater flies.
Not only is the enjoyment of catching fish is only enhanced by catching it on one of your own hand tied flies, but catching it on a hand tied fly of your own creation, not recreated from a book is a uniquely rewarding experience. It is your fly, your creation and nobody else has one. This is when it gets interesting. You must question your fly and use the answers to inform your next creation. Why did this fly work? The weather conditions are taken into account alongside your fly fishing technique, the season, what’s happening on the water to name but a few of the considerations in assessing a fly’s performance. That’s what makes it remarkable. The laughable thing about this is that you may tie an identical fly again in the future and never catch a fish with it. However, if it did catch a second fish, it would be carefully and precisely replicated and its special place in the fly box would be assured.
To this day, I still enjoy spending several hours at the vice tying any fly that may come to mind. It has taught me so much and opened a whole new world of fishing. It involves studying the many fly patterns and experimenting with mixing various shades of colours and materials which to be honest can be a bit overwhelming at times, but immensely enjoyable nonetheless. I have proven the old statement to be true: “The fly will catch the angler before the fish”. Well, I’ve been well and truly caught by the fly, but sure isn’t that all part of the sport.