A Fly To Try This Month- Stoat’s Tail
Stoat’s Tail- Cooper
Tail: golden pheasant crest
Tag: oval silver
Body: black floss with oval silver rib
Wing: black hair
Hackle: pinch of black cock or hen
1/4″ – 1/2″ yellow electrical flex
Pinch of Stoat’s tail above and below
The Stoat’s Tail in its various guises is the quintessential hairwing salmon fly and is the pattern I think best embodies everything about summer fishing with a floating line and long leader.The Stoat is part of that generation of flies that includes the Hairy Mary and Tosh; these became the template for modern salmon flies marking the end of an era, characterised by featherwing flies, and the dawn of a new one. I have a real affinity for these simple hairwing flies- much of it is pure sentiment, but that is important in its own way too. I used to carry a box of these about with me as a child and have been captivated by their simple beauty for as long as I can remember. I know that sounds a bit corny, but there you go.
The Stoat, or‘the wee black flee’ as I have often heard it described here in Aberdeenshire, really comes into its own when the water warms up and the fish are more apt to come up for a small fly. In May and June, this classic style of fly fishing is at its best as anglers fish on warm evenings looking for late running springers and the first of the grilse and sea trout. The great angling writer Bill Currie captured this perfectly in the chapter ‘Deeside in May’ in his book the River Within. It is a marvellous and evocative piece of writing.
The most famous and ubiquitous variant is, of course, the Silver Stoat. In the same way, as the Godfather Part II is one of the few sequels to surpass the original, the Silver Stoat is arguably even more effective and certainly more popular than the Stoat itself. The addition of small jungle cock cheeks makes it highly desirable to anglers and fish alike. With or without jungle cock the Silver Stoat is a workhorse pattern throughout the land; when the water drops and clears it takes its share of springers, summer and autumn salmon, grilse and sea trout. In this respect, the Silver Stoat is a pattern of great versatility and I doubt many of us leave home without one.
The Stoat is one of the finest examples of the modern hairwing style and is generally regarded to have been created at Park by the ghillie George Cooper. I must thank my pal Neil Stephenson for this information. Neil was speaking to a long time Spey and Dee angler Norman Mathieson and he relayed the story that George created the Stoat in the 1950s, but the credit went to Eric Parker, a Park regular. The fly was first tied on a plastic tube and fished almost exclusively in May and June. The Yellow Stoat, two pinches of black hair on yellow electric wire tubing- was a popular version in the 1960s and these became the most popular of the early summer flies at Park.
Today, Upper Drum and Lower Durris ghillie, Jim Paton remains a devotee of the Yellow Stoat and its is on one of his rods throughout the summer months. As a general rule, Jim prefers it as 1/4″ – 1/2″ tube. He has tried larger versions earlier in the year, without success. It is the small wispy tubes of July and August, which excites him. Jim first tried the fly when working at Park for Major Foster, who introduced him to the fly.
The hair should always be Stoat. There is no real reason why this should be so. It just is. The same goes for the yellow tubing. It has to be a pale yellow and, in a similar way to Stoat hair, if the colour isn’t right then it will play on the mind. Jim concedes, none of this makes a jot of difference to the fish. But if its not ‘just so’ the niggle it creates puts him off. So, while it is a very simple fly, it has to pass the ghillie’s test!