Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gray Hackle Peacock; Zulu; Orl Fly; and Peacock-flie




Narrow gold tinsel

Scarlet red hackle fibers

Peacock herl

Grizzly hen

Dave Hughes includes the Gray Hackle Peacock as a traditional pattern in Wet Flies (1995). Earlier precedents for the Gray Hackle Peacock likely include the Zulu, as Mary Orvis Marbury depicts it on Plate A of her Favorite Flies and their Histories (1892); the Orl Fly found in the writings of John Turton and the Bowlkers; and the Peacock-flie, mentioned by both Charles Cotton and James Chetham. All of these share three traits, red silk, peacock body, and a grizzly or speckled hackle; none make mention of the gold tip or scarlet tail fibers that Hughes ascribes to the dressing, although Marbury’s illustration does indicate a red wool tag for the Zulu. (Marbury's dressing clearly distinguishes from the Black Zulu, which is more commonly shortened as the Zulu.)

In his Angler’s Manual (1836), Turton includes the Orl Fly as No. 11, a hackle:

“For May and June; is made with red silk; wing, a dark grizzled cock hackle feather; body, copper-coloured peacock’s herl. A good fly”

In their respective editions of the Art of Angling (1758, 1774), Charles and his father Richard cite the Orl Fly for May and June, particularly in hot weather, and they give very similar dressings. Charles assigns the dressing thus:  “The wings of the Orl Fly are made with a dark grizzle cock’s hackle, the body of peacock’s harle, worked with dark red silk: The hook, No. 6.”

In the Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), James Chetham reprints the flies Cotton included in the second part of the Compleat Angler (1676). The Gray Hackle Peacock is a dressing for May: “There is also this Month a flie call’d the Peacock-flie, the body made with a whirl of a Peacocks feather, with a red head, and wings of a Mallards feather.”

Sylvester Nemes mentions the Gray Hackle Red in the second edition (2006) of The Soft Hackled Flies (1975), suggesting it as a precedent for his own Syl’s Midge: “I cannot find it [Syl’s Midge] in the angling literature of the north of England, so it must be an American invention that came down to present use through the Gray Hackle Peacock, which was tied with a peacock herl body and grizzle hackle, cock or hen. Donald DuBois’s book, The Fisherman’s Handbook of Trout Flies [1960], lists other similar hackled flies, such as the Gray Hackle Purple and Gray Hackle Red. The hackle remained the same, but the body changed according to the whim of the tier. Some patterns had orange and red tags and gold ribbing. They were all old, famous wet flies.” 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Orange Flie; or Orange Brown

This dressing substitutes dark orange hare's poll for the orange wool Charles Cotton lists and a crow primary tied hacklewise for the nebulous "wing of a black feather."



Burnt orange rabbit fur

Crow from the neck or head

In Part 2 of Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1676), Charles Cotton includes the dressing for the Orange Flie at the head of the list for July: “1. We have then the Orange Flie, the dubbing of Orange Wool, and the wing of a black feather.” Following suit in his reprint of Cotton’s flies, James Chetham includes the Orange-fly in his list of dressings for July in the Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), although he inserts another fly ahead of it.

In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee reprints a pattern that is similar, including the Oringe Black in John Swarbrick’s “List of Wharfedale Flies” (1807): “The Flie is very Small a Hackle The feather is taken From a Starling Neck Harld at the Head with Marpie feather orange Silk.” This dressing is almost an exact match for the Orange Black No. 56 that John Turton includes in his  Angler’s Manual (1836). It is a silk-bodied dressing for July that Turton includes alongside the Wasp Fly, No. 57, which is dressed in darker orange-brown tones.

Alfred Ronalds includes the Orange Fly, No. 39, in his Fly Fisher’s Entomology (1836) as a dressing for a small orange scorpion wasp. He explains that it “is one of the best flies that can be used both for Trout and Grayling. There are a great many varieties, some larger, some smaller than the representation [on the color plate]. It may be used all day. Although discovered alive with difficulty, it is found abundant in the stomachs of the fish. It is furnished with an apparatus call the sting, used for the purpose of piercing the skin of caterpillars, in which it deposits its eggs, the grub from which grows in, and ultimately kills, the insect in which it was hatched.

BODY. Orange floss silk tied on with black silk thread.
WINGS. Dark part of the starling’s wing, or feather of a hen blackbird.
LEGS. A very dark furnace hackle.”

Michael Theakston, likewise, includes an Orange Brown, No. 83 in his List of Natural Flies (1843). In Theakston’s entomological parlance, a “brown” is a stone fly.

This dressing uses silk buttonhole twist by Talon, orange 455, size D, and substitutes reddish brown cock hackle for landrail.

Theakston’s dressing calls for the Orange Brown to be “Hackled or winged with a landrail’s feather; bright orange silk, for body; with a few fibers of mohair or squirrel’s fur, at the breast.”

In addition to representing a small summer wasp and a late season stonefly, the dressing also stands in for an the ant. Oddly enough, T. E. Pritt, in North-Country Flies (1886), traces the lineage of his Large Ant, No. 58, to the Orange Stinger that John Jackson dresses as No. 51 in his Practical Angler (1854). Jackson’s comment on the fly, however, and the dressing in particular align it more with Ronalds’ dressing for the small wasp than an ant: “This, though apparently a scarce insect, is greedily taken by both Trout and Grayling, from the middle of August to the end of September.” The dressing itself matches Ronalds’ almost verbatim. The “stinger” in the name, too, recalls the egg-laying stinger Ronalds describes.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Small Ant; and, Black Ant; etc.

This dressing for T. E. Pritt's Small Ant Fly, No. 58, substitutes a reddish-brown hen for the tomtit's tail Pritt recommends.




Peacock herl, tied large fore and aft

Reddish-brown (furnace) hen with a black list

Ant patterns have historically been popular with anglers, presumably because they are effective dressings and relatively easy to dress. The Mid-Season 1978 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine included an article entitled “Ants,” a deceptively simple title for a comprehensive treatment of the insect. Author Ernest Schwiebert examines the ant’s “structural morphology” and asserts, tongue-in-cheek perhaps, that the “angler fully prepared to match ant forms on most American rivers must have 40-odd patterns in his bag of tricks" that range widely in size, from the size 28 Minute Black Ant (Monomorium ergatogyna) to  the size 10 Giant Carpenter Ant (Camponotus occidentalis), and in color, from black to brown to red to red-brown to hot orange to yellow to pinkish-red fox to whatever best matches the nuance of different species’ gasters, pedicels, and legs. 

Most anglers before Schwiebert and since (and likely into perpetuity) have preferred simpler criteria for delineating the wide variety of ant species: black or red and winged or wingless. 

British angling-authors often focused on winged ants, and used a range of materials to form the body, although they were most commonly peacock or ostrich herl. The wingless pattern shown above is the Small Ant, No. 52 that T. E. Pritt includes in  North-Country Flies (1886):

“WINGS.—Hackled with a feather from a Tomtit’s tail.
BODY AND HEAD.—A bright brownish peacock’s herl; body dressed full, as shown in the plate.”

Plate 10 for June and July shows a dressing that mimics the typical dressing for an ant—a larger body and smaller head separated by hackle. Pritt notes that the pattern “is best on hot days in July and August. The natural fly is abundant on almost every English river, and the artificial fly is alluded to by most writers. It will now and then do great execution, particularly after a flight of ants.” Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee include an almost identical dressing in their Brook and River Trouting (1916), but they place the hackle  just behind the eye, a position more typical of historical soft-hackled flies than the mid-shank dressing.

Pritt also includes a Large Ant, No 58, which is a winged dressing, much more in the traditional style of ant patterns. It retains the fore-and-after body style, but hackles the fly at the front of the hook, under a wing that extends beyond the aft section of the body. The vast majority of ant patterns are dressed for winged ants, often utilizing a peacock or fur body. John Jackson gives a dressing for the Black and Red Ant, Nos. 44 and 45, in The Practical Angler (1854). His dressing for the Red Ant is unique in that it calls for the “Herl of Cock Pheasant’s tail” to be used for the body, and in the Art of Angling (1843), William Blacker includes a dressing for a body with “Black mohair.”  In his List of Natural Flies (1843), Michael Theakston also includes dressings for the Red Ant Fly, No. 77—which he recommends to anglers with “the scriptural mandate: ‘Go to the Ant, etc.’”—and the Black Ant Fly, No. 80. Theakston dresses the latter uniquely: “Wings, a silvery grizzle cock’s hackle; dark, blood red or black silk, well waxed, for body, etc.; with a few fibres of dark red mohair at the breast, for legs.”  John Kirkbride, on the other hand, offers fairly traditional dressings for the Red Ant Fly and the Black Ant Flies with bodies of peacock or black ostrich, respectively, in The Northern Angler (1837). John Turton, too, dresses a traditional, winged Red Ant Fly, No. 10 in The Angler’s Manual (1836).

Alfred Ronalds includes a dressing for the Red and Black Ant, No. 36, in The Fly Fisher’s Entymology (1836) that combines the body materials to dress the Black Ant:

This dressing omits the starling wing, but maintains the placement of the hackle that Ronalds depicts on color plate XVI his book. Since he does not prescribe a thread color, this dressing maintains the  color given for the red ant, even though wine or black would seem more appropriate.

Ronalds gives this dressing for the Black Ant: “THE BLACK ANT is made of peacock’s herl, and black ostrich mixed, for the body. Wings from the darkest part of the starling’s wing, and legs a black cock’s hackle.

An ant pattern is also listed as the Aunt Flie, No. 22, in John Swarbrick’s List of Wharfedale Flies (1807), which Leslie Magee reprints in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994). Swarbrick’s pattern calls for the same body and winging materials as Pritt’s ant patterns, but peacock is first listed as a body material for red ants in Charles Bowlker’s Art of Angling (1774). Both Charles’ edition and his father Richard’s (1758), utilize black ostrich for the body of the black ant. Richard, however, preferred a body dubbed with “hog’s down, died of an amber colour” for the red ant, which seems an heir to the “dubbing of brown and red Camlet mixt” for dressing the  “flying Ant, or Ant-flie” that Charles Cotton July in his 1676 additions to the Compleat Angler.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pheasant Tail; or, Endrick Spider




2-3 coppery pheasant tail points

Fine copper wire

Coppery pheasant tail

Brown or grey partridge

In The Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), Sylvester Nemes notes that the Pheasant Tail “is very common in England today, and when a Britisher says he is nymph fishing, he generally means he is fishing with the pheasant tail only. There, however, the pattern does not use any hackle, but the thorax is built up with continued winding of the pheasant herls and copper wire. Some British tyers use the copper wire as the tying thread. The thin copper wire is not available from any fly tying material house I know of, but can be obtained from any small appliance repair shop.”

Nemes is describing Frank Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail nymph rather than the soft hackle he depicts in his book. I include Sawyer's directions from the Nymph and the Trout (1958) for his dressing, as they might provide an interesting, reinforced variation for tying the body of Nemes’s soft-hackled version of a Pheasant Tail. Sawyer tied his Pheasant Tail nymph thus: 

“First grip the selected hook firmly in the vice and then give the hook an even covering from bend to eye with fine red-coloured copper wire. The wire we use is a little thicker than a human hair and this one can obtain at little cost from various sources. It is used for the windings in small transformers, dynamos, or electric motors. After the hook has been covered and the wire locked so that it cannot spin around the hook shank, wind the wire in even turns to the point where the thorax of the nymph is to be constructed, and there build up a hump. Then wind the wire back to the hook bend and let it dangle. Wire is much easier to use than silk as it will not spin off or loosen if the tension is relaxed. The wire with its red colour forms the base for the dressing and at the same time gives additional weight to the hook. I dispense entirely with the use of silk and use the fine wire to tie in the dressing. The wire is now dangling from the hook bend. Take four centre fibres of a browny-red cock pheasant tail feather. Hold the fibers by their tips and then tie them on the wire so that the fine ends stand out about one eighth of an inch from the hookbend. They form the tails, or setea of the nymph. Then spin the four fibres of the pheasant tail on to the wire so that they are reinforced, and then lap fibres and wire evenly to the hook eye. Hold the wire firmly, separate the fibres from it and then wind the wire to the point behind which the thorax is made. Bend the fibres back and fasten for the first lap of the thorax, then forward to the eye of the hook again. Fasten here securely with half a dozen turns of wire and then cut away spare fibres.”


N.B. Mark Wittman, the blogger who maintains Fishing small streams (linked under Angling Blogs to the right of this post), alerted me that this fly is also known as the Endrick Spider. While I have not been able to find a definitive print record of its origins, online sources all seem to indicate that it was initially developed by John Harwood to fish on the Endrick Water, the fly's namesake and a feeder of Loch Lomond, and was later adapted for rainbow trout by Peter MacKenzie-Phillips. 

Additionally, Mike Harding, author of A Guide to Tying Northern Country Flies, generously explained to me how he prefers to tie the fly: "The Endrick Spider was originally a beadless N Country fly with a pheasant tail body and tail and a partridge hackle. I believe the original tyer was a Scot. I got it from another angler years ago and added the bead. I know use almost exclusively pheasant tail dyed olive green (yellower the better) a green tungsten bead and a full well barred partridge hackle - I also rib it with gold wire. I always now tie the hackle in front of the bead to give it more kick. I use this as my point fly with a Partridge and Orange (with a small peackock herl thorax) on the dropper - a killer combination in early season here in Yorkshire."


Although Roger Woolley assigns no thread for tying the fly, this dressing takes a cue from Nemes' rather than G. E. M. Skues' dressing for the Pheasant Tail, but it also reverse ribs the body in order to "secure the herls from being broken."

The Pheasant Tail wet fly is sometimes dressed with poultry hackle, as in the dressing Roger Woolley lists under the heading of “Devon and West Country Wet Flies” in the third edition of his Modern Fly Dressing (1950). He dresses his Pheasant Tail thus:

Body.—Cock pheasant tail fibres, ribbed gold wire.
Hackle and Whisks.—Golden dun cock.”

Although Woolley lists it as a wet fly, G. E. M. Skues offers a similar dressing of the Pheasant Tail in The Way of a Trout with a Fly (1921) as spinner for “in the long hot evenings of July, August, and September, when the blue-winged olive is on, and the deep ruddy brown sherry spinner is plentiful.” Skues cites the pattern as a well-known established dressing, offering no history or information on its development, but rather his experience with returning to the pattern.

Silk.—Hot orange.
Whisks.—Honey-dun cock’s should hackle, three strands.
Rib.—Fine bright gold wire, several tuns, to secure the herls from being broken by the teeth of the trout.
Body.—Three or four strands of herl from the ruddy part of the centre feather of a cock-pheasant’s tail.
Wings.—A sharp sparkling golden-dun cock’s hackle of high quality.”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"North Country Angling for Southern Appalachian Trout"

I am excited to share a link to a PDF version of an article that I have written on tying soft hackles for the the trout streams of the southern Appalachian mountains "North Country Angling for Southern Appalachian Trout," which has just been published in the May-June issue of  Wildlife in North Carolina, a magazine I have enjoyed reading since I was a child.

Please visit the magazine's website to read my article, "North Country Angling for Southern Appalachian Trout."

A rise on the New

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Greenwell's Glory

This dressing would have been an earlier season dressing, given the light olive body and furnace hen hackle. (For this pattern, "furnace" means a hackle with a dark list and cinnamon to dark red tips.)


Primrose yellow

Small gold wire

Light olive or primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, waxed

Dark rabbit fur

Furnace hen hackle

In Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream (1910), G. E. M. Skues prescribes the standard dressing, and emphasizes its adaptability. As the season progresses, the tying silk should be less waxed so that the body is more yellow than olive; the dark furnace hen hackle having a “black centre, with cinnamon points” of the spring should be replaced by a medium honey dun throughout the summer. In Skues' dressing, the wings also get lighter as the season progresses.
"Wings: Hen blackbird, dark starling, medium starling, or light starling (lighter as season advances).
Body: Primrose or yellow tying silk, more or less waxed (lighter as season advances), ribbed with fine gold wire.
Legs: Dark furnace hackle; black centre, with cinnamon points, to medium honey dun (lighter as season advances).
Hook: Nos. 1, 0, or 00."
While the Greenwell's Glory is traditionally tied as a winged wet fly, I have followed Sylvester Nemes’s suggestion for tying the Greenwell’s Glory in Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2003).  Nemes suggests substituting a rabbit fur thorax for wings. The result is a tidy soft-hackled fly. Many anglers from the latter part of the nineteenth century onward recommend the fly.

In the 1976 pre-season roundup issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, T. Donald Overton recalls the origins of the Greenwell's Glory which, he suggests, "must be one of the most famous flies in the history of fly fishing." It was originally tied as a wet fly by James Wright, "a superb flytier who lived on the banks of the Tweed in Sprouston" for Canon William Greenwell, "an ardent angler who frequented the Tweed in Scotland" and whose success with the dressing became the namesake of the fly. Overton explains that the "pattern was devised on fine day in the month of May in the year of 1854. Canon Greenwell had fished all day with little luck, retiring despondent to Wright's cottage, fishless, but with a sample of the natural that the trout were taking so avidly. History does not record what the insect was, but Wright reproduced it that evening in fur and feather. The next day the worthy Canon returned from the river with a full basket of fine trout, all taken on the yet-nameless fly. Excitement prevailed and a party convened to christen the fly. The local school-master suggested 'Greenwell's Glory,' and so it became."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Breadcrust

The Breadcrust is not properly a soft-hackled fly: anglers have always considered it a nymph and have tied it to represent a cased caddis larva. The fly does not adhere strictly to definition of a soft hackle I have assumed for the blog, since the quill body rather than the soft hackle is the focal point of the fly. In fact, the hackle here is more of a wet-fly collar, explicitly so in Ed Rolka and Pat Dorsey’s rendition. Nevertheless, the Breadcrust shares enough the soft-hackled style’s attributes to qualify it for inclusion in the blog. The hackle is soft, after all, and the body materials come from local game birds.

This dressing does not use the red-phase ruffed-grouse quill that Dorsey and Rolka recommend. As a matter of continuity, the hook used in this fly is the same size 14 dry fly hook used in other patterns.


#12-18 Tiemco 5262

Black 6/0 or 8/0 Uni-Thread

Red-phase ruffed-grouse quill

Black yarn

Grizzly hen”

In Tying and Fishing Tailwater Flies (2010), Pat Dorsey credits a Pennsylvania fly tier, Ed Rolka, as being the originator of the Breadcrust. After moving to Colorado, Rolka tied the Breadcrust for many of the major fly shops in Denver. Mr. Rolka passed away on December 11, 2013 at the age of 83. 

The crucial ingredient in his dressing is a quill from tail feather of a red-phased ruffed grouse, an Eastern gamebird readily available from the mountain country of Pennsylvania. Although Mr. Dorsey prefers to fish the Breadcrust with a beadhead, he gives Rolka's original dressing. The Tiemco 5262 is easy to replace if you prefer a different brand. The hook is a standard nymph hook: a down eye, 2X long, 2X heavy hook with a perfect bend. Serious anglers should look into Mr. Dorsey’s text. For the Breadcrust, he illustrates in painstaking, full-color detail the tedious process of preparing the quill to be wrapped around the hook.

Although J0hn Merwin does not suggest a particular quill for his version of the Breadcrust, a turkey biot strikes a nice balance between the distinctive rib effect of a trimmed ruffed-grouse quill and the smooth quills that Mr. Merwin recommends.



Burnt orange

Orange Pearsall’s Marabou Floss, waxed with light cobbler’s wax

Mahogany turkey biots

Grizzly hen

In 2004, I contacted long-time angling author John Merwin (1946-2013) for information about the Breadcrust because I had never found a version that seemed definitive. In his generous correspondence, he provided this dressing: “Body is orange floss (that darkens when wet). Rib is any brown or dark tan quill, closely wound so only a little orange shows through. I think this was originally stripped quill from the center stem of a ruffed grouse tail feather. Nick the quill with a razor blade, then strip off the outer surface or quill layer only. It’s not the center stem in its entirety; just the surface (enamel-like) layer. Some have said to leave some side fibers attached and trim them short before winding for a stubble effect, but that’s a very old-time suggestion that I haven’t seen in years. Hackle is grizzly, wound sparse and conventional length, meaning fibers that are about 1/3 to = the length of the body, NOT full body length or longer as some soft-hackles are tied. Be sure to use softer, wet fly hackle; e.g., from a grizzly hen neck. The Breadcrusts I most often use are small, meaning 16s to 20s and tied on standard-shank-length wet fly hooks. Sometimes weighted with wire wrapped under the floss.”

I inquired further about the lineage of the dressing, and Mr. Merwin kindly accommodated my request: “I looked briefly among my books and couldn’t find the reference I needed for that fly...if you get a chance, look for a book by a guy named Smedley on histories of some fly patterns---long out of print, but inter-library loan locally to you, perhaps....anyway, I think the Breadcrust is northeastern (Pennsylvania, maybe) in origin, likely around 1935-1950. It is not ancient like the European soft-hackles (partridge and orange, etc) I do know I’ve seen many ‘wrong’ versions published by modern writers who don’t know better. Anyway, it’s an excellent fly. You’ll do well with it.”

I originally consulted Mr. Merwin's because of the Breadcrust pattern that Poul Jorgenson listed in his "Anatomy of an Artifical," chapter 4 in the book Masters on the Nymph (1974). Mr. Jorgenson makes no mention of the original, definitive grouse quill, even though I had heard accounts of this material used in the fly dressing. Though I do not include it here, it is a beautiful wet fly dressed thus:

“Hook: Mustad 3906 or 9671
Thread: Black
Ribbing: Stripped quill, brown
Body: Orange wool
Hackle: Grizzly
Head: Black tying thread”