Trout to the Tadpole Fly

Story and Photos by Bob Salisbury

The Tadpole Fly: Some seven years ago we excavated a couple of linked ponds along the foot of the narrow valley in an area of wet land where I live in County Tyrone, Ireland. First and foremost I was interested in trying to add to the diversity of the wild life in the area and seeing if it were possible to attract the mallard and teal, which regularly passed overhead, to breed there. That aim worked better than we had hoped and duck and many other forms of wildlife soon populated the new ponds as the habitat matured and at this moment there are several mallard sitting on eggs and water rails, grebes and the many other interesting species have been seen.


Once the water had settled down following the initial excavation, we spotted minnows darting about in the small overflow stream which joined the two lakes and decided that the peaty water could perhaps sustain a population of fish, so trout were introduced as an experiment. A few rainbows of about half a pound weight were purchased, the 4X4 reversed up to the water’s edge and the fish tipped in.

There was little science involved and we merely wanted to see if the water was suitable, if there was enough natural food for the fish to survive and if the predators would leave them alone long enough for them to acclimatize and thrive. In fact, these early fish did extremely well and were followed by further stockings which grew rapidly on the supply of small fish, shrimps and insects and after their first season, provided fine sport once they became more wary and not too easy to catch.

Frogs also thrived in the new ponds and their numbers multiplied spectacularly. During the breeding season, favoured corners of the lake attracted them in hundreds and their moped-like croaking could be heard across the surrounding meadows. Herons, buzzards and otters came to take advantage of the rich pickings and many frogs fell victim to their efforts.

Great masses of spawn is now left in the lake with the tiny tadpoles safe in the protective jelly, but once they hatch the margins of the lake become alive with thousands of the wriggling black shapes and that is when the rainbow trout get busy. Perhaps this year’s late spring has reduced the normal food supply in the water, but for whatever reason, during the past few weeks, the trout in the lakes have been especially active in hunting down the tadpole shoals.

All around the edges there has been frenzied activity as the trout patrol the margins and make sudden lunges which scatter the tadpoles in all directions. I decided it might be good sport to fish the edges with a tadpole fly and asked a friend, Joe McDonald, a nationally known fly-tying expert, if he could put together a couple of patterns for me to try out. He produced two types of classic tadpole flies and advised me to try both depending on whether the tadpoles were near the surface or hugging the bottom.


Some were tied with a peacock herl rope wound to form and oval hump while others had a painted eye. I am always encouraged by how many clubs across the land actively work to involve young people in the sport of fishing. Every month in fishing magazines there are examples of both boys and girls who have caught their first trout, salmon or flatfish and have it proudly displayed for the camera. Learning to fish can be a fairly complicated process without adult guidance and getting some early success is the motivation which will lead to a lifetime of pleasure and activity. There is indeed, a lot to learn about the sport for the beginner and as every fisherman knows knowledge of equipment, tactics, species, wildlife recognition, conservation and sporting etiquette can take many years to acquire. As one old angling friend of mine says “The more you think you know about angling the more the fish will prove you wrong!”

Most good clubs understand that by giving opportunity for youngsters to join the organisation at no cost and to take advantage of the adult expertise both maintains the viability of the club and provides an activity where generations can get together so that tips and tactics can be passed on. With this sentiment in mind, since activity of the trout in the lakes had been so regular, I thought it might be a good idea to give some young anglers experience of fishing the tadpole fly, so asked my regular fishing companion, Peter, to bring along two of his sons to try out the techniques we had in mind.

Tadpoles rarely stray far from the relative safety of the margins and since the trout could be seen attacking them in the shallows it seemed best to advise the boys to fish along the banks rather than casting out into the middle of the water. The thousands of small black shapes wriggled along for short distances before resting, so Arron and his brother Peter were told the best approach was to retrieve the line in very short jerks then wait a few seconds before retrieving once more.


The first take was spectacular and very close to the bank  and the real tadpoles could be seen desperately trying to seek shelter from the attack in the floating vegetation along the water’s edge. Stocked rainbow trout, in good clean water where there is a plentiful supply of natural food quickly grow into strong, healthy fish and this one fought well on the light tackle. There is always a tendency to rush the fight and ‘bully’ the trout towards the net especially when ‘catch and release’ is the option and the intention is not to tire the trout too much, but this fish was strong and made several determined runs so had to be played carefully. Eventually he slowed down and was netted, photographed and returned – a first rate rainbow in prime condition. His captor, Peter, seemed pleased with his efforts and after a quick picture was taken was quickly back fishing the margins to try to temp another fish.

Stocked fish quickly learn to be wary of movement on the banks and working the margins with the fly, especially from the crouched position can be tricky and it is certainly not easy to cast accurately and delicately in these circumstances. Inevitably flies became caught up in the vegetation or the overhead trees and fishing was brought to a temporary halt. I am always amazed how readily leaders and artificial flies seem to be attracted to every twig and reed along the bank and how quickly the slightest inattention on the part of the fisherman can cause an almighty tangle. Every experienced angler knows that climbing trees is sometimes part of fishing and trying to avoid this hassle in the first place is a valuable lesson for all young fishermen to learn.

A good trout created a bow wave as it followed Arron’s tadpole fly down the margins and was finally hooked as it made a determined lunge close in. A spirited fight followed before the fish was finally brought to the net but soon after this excitement, the rain started and as it seemed set in for the evening, our outings with tadpole flies came to an end.

I have seen it written that trout don’t eat tadpoles but given our experience over the past weeks I think the evidence is overwhelming and indisputable and in my view the tadpole fly is a good addition to any angler’s box.