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, December 3, 2014


This dressing assigns black thread for dressing the fly, since James Chetham prescribes black silk for securing the wings to the hook shank, and it is hackled rather than winged with starling. 




Raw New Zealand Romney - black sheep’s wool with some gray mixed in


The Hearth-fly heads the list of flies for August angling that James Chetham includes in the second edition (1700) of his Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681). It is a part of the list following his reprint of Charles Cotton’s flies. He describes it as a “Catalogue, of Flies, practiced by a very good Angler, and useful to be known by the young Anglers in clear, Stony Rivers.” Chetham explains that the fly is "Made of the Wooll of and Old Black Sheep with some Grey Hairs in it for the Body and Head, Wing's dub'd with Black Silk, wing's of the light Feather in a Shepstares Quill." Chetham's preference for "shepstare" over starling is evocative of a North Country dialect. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an entry from an 1848 zoology text that lists "shepstare" as a Yorkshire variant of starling.

In the 1758 edition of the Art of Angling, Richard Bowlker includes the Hearth Fly in a list of “other Flies taken notice of in some treatises of angling, which may possibly be of use in some rivers” in order “to satisfy the curiosity” of other anglers, but Bowlker asserts that he does not “think it worth while to make any of them artificially.” The later edition (1774) by Bowlker's son Charles make no mention at all of the Hearth Fly in the “CATALOGUE of FLIES seldom found useful to fish with.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gray Caddis Larva

This pattern has been dressed after the fashion of a soft hackle rather than in a larval form, Sens-style, and it uses silver wire rather than oval tinsel.



Dark brown

Fine oval tinsel or wire

Dark grayish muskrat fur dubbing

Dark brown fur dubbing

Dark partridge hackle fibers

In Nymphs (1973), Ernest Schwiebert prescribes many soft-hackled flies or flies based on traditional soft hackles to imitate caddis flies in general. He explains that the “Gray Caddis Larva is an extremely versatile pattern in all sizes, and both [the Gray and Yellow Caddis Larvae discussed alongside the Gray] are fine imitations of the Hydropsyche flies."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grouse and Green

This dressing follows one of John Kirkbride's dressings for the Grouse Hackle, assigning a particular silk and thread. 



Olive dun

Olive Pearsall's Gossamer Silk

Grouse back

Because of Ernest Schwiebert’s reference to the Grouse and Green as a “traditional Yorkshire pattern” in Nymphs (1973), the pattern might presumably figure into multiple historical texts on North Country fly dressing. Schwiebert makes frequent reference to North Country and Scottish soft-hackled flies in the development of modern techniques for dressing nymphal patterns. He attributes the success of those patterns to the brawling waters of Scotland and the North Country where anglers dressed and fished them. Such waters are home to many species of caddis flies, which, Schwiebert argues, provides an imitative corollary that accounts for the success of the flies. Of the three times he references the Grouse and Green, he attributes it to W. C. Stewart, but Stewart makes no reference to a soft-hackled or spider Grouse and Green in his Practical Angler (1857). Later posthumous editions of Stewart’s book include color plates that depict a Grouse and Green which is a much more heavily-dressed wet fly than the characteristically “dour patterns” which Schwiebert suggests must have “filled his [Stewart's] fly books.”

Schwiebert gives a dressing for the Medium Dark-Olive Sedge based on the Grouse and Green which he has “modified” in order “to imitate . . . olive-bodied Macronema flies," which he discusses in his chapter on Trichoptera: “W. C. Stewart used an [this] ancient border pattern to imitate similar caddis flies on his beloved Whiteadder, Teviot, and Tweed.”

Schwiebert’s misattribution is easy—the Grouse and Green does not seem to be mentioned anywhere - Roger Woolley only pairs grouse with claret, yellow, and orange silk in his Modern Trout Flies (1950) -though the hackle and body combination does in a few very specific instances appear under dressings for the Grouse Hackle. Typically, soft-hackled patterns using grouse hackles also use an orange body, as in the Grouse Hackle that William Blacker includes in his Art of Angling (1843). Blacker also includes dressings for a Partridge or Grouse Hackle utilizing different furs for bodies. One variation calls for a “Body—hare’s ear fur mixed with olive mohair” to create a green effect. It also includes a starling wing.

In the Northern Angler (1837), John Kirkbride also includes various dressings for the Grouse Hackle, one of which is illustrated above as the Grouse and Green: “It is made as a hackle, with a small bright mottled feather from the back of a cock grouse, with a dusky yellow or olive body.”

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 a 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, October 8, 2014

Old Blue Dun

James Leisenring notes that an optional starling wing can be added to this dressing, though the Old Blue Dun he pictures in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941) is dressed as above, without it. 



Two or three rusty-dun hackle fibers

One strand of silk buttonhole twist – Coats and Clark’s 72-A primrose, size D; or full twist, tightly twisted

Muskrat dubbed on primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, wrapped so that some silk shows through the dubbing at the tail end

Blue-dun hen

James Leisenring included the Old Blue Dun in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). He dressed it:

“HOOK  12, 13, 14.
SILK  Primrose yellow.
HACKLE  Blue-dun hen hackle of good quality.
TAIL  Two or three glassy fibers from a rusty-blue-dun cock’s hackle.
RIB  One strand of yellow buttonhole twist
BODY  Mustrat underfur spun on primrose-yellow silk, a little of the silk showing through dubbing at the tail.
WINGS  Starling optional.”

Leisenring’s name for the fly does not appear in older angling literature, but the word “old” suggests it should. Since many patterns utilize combinations of dun colored furs on yellow silk bodies coupled with hackles in varying shades of dun and, quite often, with smoky dun-colored wings, the most distinguishing feature of Leisenring’s dressing is the addition of a primrose rib.

In the third edition of the Modern Fly Dressing (1950), Roger Woolley lists various dressings of the Blue Dun as the Early Olive Dun. Blue Dun is a relatively common name, and shows up alongside other dressings that utilize blue fur bodies, but they usually omit the rib. Like Leisenring's Old Blue Dun, Woolley's dressings, particularly those under the heading of "Hackled Wet Patterns for Midland and Welsh Waters," often include bodies of various blue furs and a rib that is yellow (on in a few cases, of silver wire).

William Blacker gives an almost identical dressing in his Art of Angling (1843), although it neither stipulates the color of the tying thread nor makes the starling wing optional. He calls it the Whirling Dun, No. 29, and he argues it is best suited for June and July fishing. Richard Bowlker, too, includes a Little Pale Blue in his Art of Angling (1758) that neglects tail fibers and uses “the lightest blue feathers of a sea-swallow” for the wing.

Perhaps the oldest direct precedent for Leisenring’s Old Blue Dun is the “whirling Dun” that Charles Cotton listed for April in his additions to the Compleat Angler (1676). He notes that “About the twelfth of this Month comes in the Flie call’d the whirling Dun, which is taken every day about the mid time of the day all this Month through, and by fits from thence to the end of June, and is commonly made of the down of a Fox Cub, which is of an Ash colour at the roots, next to the skin, and ribb’d about with yellow silk, the wings of the pale grey feather of a Mallard.”

The lineage of Leisenring's Old Blue Dun has much in common with the lineage of the prevalent Waterhen Bloa, though most of the latter's dressings are not ribbed. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rough-Bodied Poult

This dressing substitutes a quail undercovert for the particular hackle Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee suggest.



Primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk

Tying silk dubbed lightly with buff opossum

Dun bobwhite quail undercovert

In Brook and River Trouting (1916), Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee give the dressing for the Rough-Bodied Poult as No 20, to imitate Ephemeridæ hatching from July through September. The name "poult" derives originally from the word "pullet," but the Oxford English Dictionary notes that, while it often referred to young, domesticated fowl and game birds, it was most often used in reference to the grouse. As is often the case with traditional soft-hackles, the name of the Rough-Bodied Poult indicates the most prominent part of the fly, the grouse undercovert hackle.

Edmonds and Lee dress the fly with their usual specificity:

“WINGS.—Hackled with a light blue feather from the under coverts of a young Grouse wing, taken before the bird is strong on the wing. (The lighter side of the feather towards the head of the fly.) This feather darkens very rapidly on the live bird from August onwards.
BODY.—Straw coloured silk, No. 2, dubbed sparingly with buff fur from the flank of an Opossum.
HEAD.—Straw-coloured silk.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dotterel, in orange and yellow

This dressing of the orange Dotterel uses silk buttonhole twist - Talon 455 orange, size D, lightly twisted to suggest a natural rib.

This dressing of the orange Dotterel uses silk buttonhole twist - Coats & Clark's lemon 223, size D, lightly twisted to suggest a natural rib.



Orange or yellow to match the body

Orange or Yellow

Starling undercoverts, dun with light tan tips

The Dotterel is a standard North Country or Scottish spider. In his Northern Angler (1837), Scottish angler John Kirkbride calls it the “most destructive fly in this part of the country, killing remarkably well during the whole season.” Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee regard it as most effective from May to September in Brook and River Trouting (1916). Likewise, in his North-Country Flies (1886), T. E. Pritt explains that “the dotterel is a good standard fly all through the season from the end of April, more especially on rather cold days.” While he concedes that it “is undoubtedly a splendid killer,” Pritt speculates “whether its reputation on all the Yorkshire, and other north country rivers, is not in excess of its merits.” 

Edmonds and Lee put forward the standard dressing for the Dotterel as No. 17 in their book, elaborating slightly on Pritt’s Dotterel, No. 35:

“WINGS.—Hackled with a light-tipped fawnish feather from the marginal coverts or lesser coverts of a Dotterel’s wing.
BODY.—Orange silk, No. 6, or primrose yellow silk, No. 3.
HEAD.—Orange silk, or primrose yellow silk.”

Pritt suggests “Straw-coloured silk” for the body, but he notes that “some anglers prefer Orange silk.” E. M. Tod’s preference is evident in his name for the fly, the Dotterel and Orange, but his dressing is identical. Michael Theakston offers a Dotterel Dun as the 79th fly in his List of Natural Flies (1843), dressing it with the a body  of “copper-colored silk, slightly tinged with water-rat’s fur; winged with a dotterel’s feather; winged with slips and a few fibers of mohair or hare’s ear, wrought in at the breast.” Only Kirkbride’s dressing varies wildly from the simple spider. His fly has a hare’s ear body, dyed yellow, gradually lightened as the season advances with addition of yellow mohair. In discolored water, Kirkbride’s Dotterel has a three-part body: hare’s ear dyed yellow in the front, a band of yellow thread in the middle, and a sparsely dubbed muskrat section near the bend of the hook.

In light of its reputation, what might be most significant about the Dotterel soft hackle is that it can no longer be dressed authentically. Its namesake hackle comes from a long-protected species. Leslie Magee discusses the challenge of dressing the Dotterel without dotterel in Fly Fishing: the North-Country Tradition (1996): “I have carefully examined several museum skins of Dotterel and I must say that I believe that it would be extremely difficult to differentiate between the feathers formerly used for the ‘Dotteril Fly’ and feathers selected from some other birds. I have also examined Dotterel feathers in old fly wallets and it would seem that because of the rarity of the bird, that a wide range of its feathers were made use of.” Pritt suggests curlew.

In The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941), James Leisenring does not even include dotterel hackled under a separate heading as he does for other land bird hackles like the coot, partridge, jackdaw, and snipe. The dotterel is a footnote to the starling, which provides an a perfect substitute that is “found among the undercoverts of the starling wing. The feathers are dun colored with buff or yellow tips, and can be distinguished from the genuine dotterel only by a difference in stiffness.” Edmonds and Lee make a similar recommendation, as does W. C. Stewart in The Practical Angler (1857).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


This dressing substitutes an American woodcock covert for English woodcock undercovert T. E. Pritt lists, as well as using embroidery thread in place of silk. Also, the head is finished using the tan  thread used to dress the Greentail.



Embroidery thread – DMC 987 dark forest green


T. E. Pritt lists his Greensleeves, No. 48, as an alternative to the Greentail or Grannom in Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885) and its subsequent edition, North-Country Flies (1886). In the former, he notes that the dressing “differs little from the Greentail, and is probably a fanciful edition of that fly, useful only on dull, sultry days, and occasionally in the evening. Not generally dressed, but will now and then kill fairly.” He dresses it as follows:

“WINGS.-Hackled with a feather from the inside of a Woodcock’s wing of from a hen Pheasant’s neck.
BODY.-Bright green silk.

Pritt refers to the Greensleeves as a “fanciful edition” of the Greentail. In What the Trout Said (1982), Datus Proper defined what fanciful means in relation to British dressings: “The term is British, and Americans are often unaware that fancy does not mean gaudy. There is room for confusion, since some fancy flies also happen to be gaudy. Many others are sober creations that happen to be products of an angler’s fancy. John Waller Hills says that a fancy fly may imitate insect life generally but cannot be ‘connected with any particular species or genus or group.’ By way of example, he gives Stewart’s famous Black, Red, and Dun Spiders, which are small, drab, wet flies for upstream fishing. Hills then distinguishes fancy flies from ‘general’ flies, which ‘imitate a genus or group, but not an individual.’ The difference is a fine one.”

In the later edition of Pritt’s text, North-Country Flies (1886), Pritt adds more specific information on the lineage for the Greensleeves, noting that it is “Another form of Ronalds’ ‘Gold-eyed gauze wing,'" which Alfred Ronalds includes in the Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836) as No. 34, a fly dressed to match a July hatch. The Gold-eyed gauze wing, he explains, “is rather a scarce insect upon some waters, but where it is found affords great sport on windy days.” Ronalds dresses the fly thus:

“BODY. Very pale yellowish green floss silk, tied on with silk thread of the same colour.
WINGS AND LEGS. The palest blue dun hackle which can be procured.”

The name Greensleeves likely derives from an old English folk ballad with North Country associations. The ballad “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves,” was registered by Richard Jones in the autumn of 1580. What the connection between the fly and a folk ballad might connote is any angler’s guess.

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 species’ gaster, pedicel, 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.”