Published Oct 20. 2010 - 13 years ago
Updated or edited Oct 28. 2021

Great Lakes Irish Invaders

Bob Kenly takes a turn with some tubes from the Canadian Tube Fly Company and converts a traditional Irish fly into something... let's just say not as traditional. So Chris's Irish Shrimp turned into Great Lakes Orange, a steelhead pattern tied on a tube.

Aft hackle - Tie in the aft hackle facing forward, epoxy the thread winding and let dry
Stuart's tubes -
Irish fly and tubes
Bob Kenly

I'm old.
Very old.
75 to be exact.
But being old does have certain benefits a lot of younger people aren't privy to.
I can be as eccentric as I want without any incriminatory blow back from those still searching for a place to call their own. However, advanced age does have a down side, many of my friends seem to think I'm too old to get into trouble and conspire to keep me locked down in a safe mode. One of those misguided is my friend, Stuart Anderson, who owns the Canadian Tube Fly Company and sends me tying supplies. As he puts it, "to keep me out of the bars and out of trouble".

His latest care package was filled with tubes which he started manufacturing from a lighter alloy to appease North American Steelheaders who complained about the heavy weight of similar European tubes. Among the tubes were some interesting tapered shrimp tubes in 1/2 and 1 inch sizes, anodized in silver, gold and black. At first glance the tubes appeared to be of tubes more common to Europe especially the United Kingdom instead of what we see here in North America. I wrote to my old friend Arthur in Northern Ireland and told him I would tie him up some Irish shrimp patterns on tubes and he accepted the offer.

Irish Shrimp flies

The Irish fly - The anatomy of the traditional Irish fly
Bob Kenly

Irish shrimp flies tend to be very different than what we normally see in North America, however they are popular with West Coast Steelhead fishers. The fly construction generally follows a long held Irish tradition of construction, anywhere in size from #16 to #2/0, tied on treble or double hooks with some of the larger sizes in single hooks. The body of the fly is usually divided in two separate colors. At the eye end there is usually a hackle that extends in a cone toward the tail end of the fly. To simulate the shrimp's eyes Jungle Cock nails are placed under the forward hackle although there are some Irish shrimp patterns that have the JC at the middle hackles. The middle hackle is generally tied at the division point between the two body colors. again in a cone shape facing toward the tail (or aft if you insist) of the fly. The tail of the fly is generally made of GP feathers from Golden pheasant tied so the tail is splayed out from the centerline of the hook.

Robert Gilliespie wrote a comprehensive piece about tying the tails on Irish flies.
Like everything else in fly tying these rules shouldn't be considered written stone. For one reason or another the Irish seem to shun tube flies, however you are starting to see some traditional shrimp hook patterns tied in tubes, albeit my interpretation is different from the original.

Ireland and the Great Lakes Connection

After tying some Irish styled patterns for my friends in Northern Ireland I came to my "What Now Period", remembering a conversation I had with an Irish friend who told me Irish shrimp flies were used in Western North America for Steelhead. Since I'm unable to travel far to try out my creations my usual plan is to find someone willing and able enough to take my patterns swimming, sort of standing on a virtual street corner with a sign around my neck stating, "Broken down old man needs someone to try his flies". Almost as quick as it was posted I got an answer from Chris, a young man from Ontario, Canada. The big surprise came when he said that he fished for Steelhead in the Great Lakes tributaries using Irish Shrimp flies. I have fished the Great Lakes tributaries many times and never even seen any shrimp flies being used or sold, in fact except for the fresh water Mysis shrimp I didn't think the Great Lakes, being fresh water, had any shrimp at all. Before I got accused of being stuck in stupid I thought it wise I'd better make sure I knew what I was talking about before making a bunch of rash statements. It seems there are a large amount of shrimp in the Great Lakes, small 1/2 inch, fat rich, bright orange and white colored that came from ballast on ships that plied their trade from the Black and Caspian seas. The infestation reached from Ontario on the Canadian side to Michigan on the American side and its expected that Hemimysis Anomala will soon be a major problem in the food chain if not already. Chris was looking for an orange colored pattern so I cobbled him up something I thought might be of interest to the Great Lakes Steelhead.

Chris's Shrimp, Great Lakes Orange

Heads or Tails: So as not to overly confuse the situation regarding which is the fly's front and which is the back I'd probably better explain my thinking (such as it is at 75). The Irish call the eye end of the hook the "Front" and the end with the hook the "aft" part of the fly. Then of course what comes out the back is the tail. I've had many lively discussions as to why it's that way, such as why the shrimp eyes are at the tail of a normally swimming shrimp on Irish flies. My thinking is the end with the head of the shrimp (the eyes being on the head) is the front and what sticks out from the head are the feelers, totally opposite from Irish thinking. Normally shrimp swim backwards, tail first, thus my way of orientation on shrimp flies as to what is front and what is back.

Tube: Stuart Anderson's 12 mm shrimp tube
Thread: Orange 8/0 or finer
Eyes: Epoxy eyes, painted black. made on 2 pound test mono
Feelers: Very mobile hair such as Arctic fox
Flash: two pieces of Krystal Flash
Front Hackle: Chinese hackle
Aft Hackle: Schlappen
Epoxy: Devcon 2-Ton

Since I'm under no time constraints when I tie I always use Devcon epoxy but if I were tying a lot of flies I would consider using one of the new generation of instant drying epoxies which use a light source to harden the epoxy.

I absolutely shun the use of Jungle Cock nails on my flies especially shrimp flies. All of my shrimp have epoxy eyes where the head would normally be when swimming. Before doing anything else I take a short piece of two pound test mono and burn a knot in each end with a lighter. Then I make a small puddle of Devcon 5-minute epoxy and keep dipping the knots in the epoxy till a ball forms. After the eye has dried I color each eye with acrylic artist's paint in a contrasting color to the fly. After the paint is dry I cover the eyes with Devcon 2-Ton epoxy to protect them.

Color the tube





Aft hackle

The tube I use is Stuart Anderson's 12mm shrimp tubes. These are uncolored and do not have a liner installed however Stuart does send plenty of liner material with the tubes. (pic: Stuarts Tubes) One thing I found very helpful I always cement my liners in the tubes with epoxy to keep them from turning while tying on them. My next step is to color the tube with the desired color (In my next article I'll do a comprehensive dissertation on coloring raw tubes).

Attaching the feelers
I tie the feelers and flash directly on the hook keeper.

Attaching the eyes
Attach the eyes right on the head right after you tie on the feelers. I tie in the eyes catching the mono with the thread and cutting the excess mono off. Now attach the other eye on the opposite side of the head Next I epoxy the threaded head area, flow epoxy under the eyes to prevent them from being torn off. Let the epoxy dry and cure, preferably overnight.

Front hackle
Tie in the front hackle, I fold the hackle and tie in in facing forward, I also cut off the top barbs of the hackle so that the eyes show more predominately when the fly is finished. Epoxy the thread windings and let dry.

Aft hackle
Tie in the aft hackle facing forward, epoxy the thread winding and let dry.
Snip off the excess tubing and the fly is ready to use.

Some Final Thoughts

It's easy to see that Chris's Shrimp can't be considered a pure Irish Shrimp fly as I took a little of this and that from other patterns to meld what I thought would make a nice Steelhead fly. When the fly arrived Chris immediately too it to a local river and caught several resident Steelhead plus a Smallmouth bass of all things. So now we're faced with the question whether Great Lakes fish recognize shrimp patterns as shrimp, something good to eat, or do they just like the flies because they like the colors and the fact they wiggle in the water. I've tied Chris several other patterns which may possibly answer that question in the future.

So what's next for me, maybe South America, Argentina or Chile perhaps (I'm somewhat partial to their cuisine). So if there is someone down there who would like to try some of my shrimp patterns give me a shout and we can discuss the matter.

Trim - Snip off the excess tubing and the fly is ready to use
Wilkinson - Irish-American Wilkinson
Bob Kenly


super looking flies,...

super looking flies, you keep the essence of the traditional Irish shrimp pattern but give it a completely new and innovative twist... and I'm loving the Wilkinson version!

Bob, Have to say, yo...

Bob, Have to say, you turn out some fine work, and you do get my gray matter working.



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