Wednesday, July 30, 2014


This dressing depicts the first rendering of T. F. Salter's dressing that Sylvester Nemes suggests. It only uses one strand of peacock herl to complement the two barbs from a cock pheasant's tail



Tobacco brown or rust

Pheasant tail and peacock herl twisted with the tying thread

Light starling undercovert

In Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004), Sylvester Nemes gives particular attention to the Pismire fly in his treatment of T. F. Salter’s The Angler’s Guide (1823). He suggests that the fly might be intended as a dressing for an ant. The word "pismire" is, as Nemes notes, an old word for the insect. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that "pismire" has fourteenth-century etymological roots from which "pissant" is derived, and that it first shows up in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1395).

The dressing that Salter gives seems to be for a winged wet, much like ant patterns that had been popular as early as Charles Cotton's additions to the Compleat Angler (1676) through the mid-nineteenth century. James Chetham recommends the Pismire-fly in his Angler's Vade Mecum (1681) as "a good fly," dressed with a "Body of bright Brown Bears Hair twirl'd upon Red Silk, Wings of the saddest colour'd Feather got from the Quill of a Shepstares Wing." Salter, on the other hand, dressed the fly with a "body of a cock-pheasant’s tail, a peacock’s herl to be twisted with it, and warp [wound] with ruddy silk; wings the light part of a starling’s feather, and to be made longer than the body.”

Nemes provides “two suggested patterns based on Salter’s Pismire fly,” though neither explicitly suggests an ant:

“1. Body: Two strands of peacock herl and two barbs from a rooster pheasant’s tail, wound together. Hackle: Starling feather, including the lighter, dun colored barbs at the bottom of the feather.

2. Body: Two strands of peacock herl and two barbs from a rooster pheasant’s tail, wound together. Hackle: Gray partridge breast feather or a two-toned feather from the back of the bird.”

William Blacker also provides what is likely intended to be a terrestrial dressing, the Pismire No. 30, for June and July in his Art of Angling (1843). The dressing is much simpler than Salter’s and, similar to Nemes's versions, seems to be more of a general than a strictly imitative pattern. His illustration on the second plate of flies in the book does not directly resemble an ant in shape, though the color is reminiscent of the red ants his predecessors described. Blacker dressed his Pismire as a simple palmer:

“Body, Brown mohair.
Legs, Small red hackle, wound up from the tail.
     (No wings.)”

This dressing substitutes cinnamon acrylic canvas yarn for brown mohair and uses tobacco brown thread.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cow-turd Flie; or, more commonly (and recently), the Cowdung

This fly uses thread color for the body that James Leisenring’s dressing prescribes and body dubbing in the colors most dressings historically suggest, while maintain the "full and rough" body Leisenring recommends.( Earlier dressings prescribe colors rather than specific furs.) It uses tan hen hackle to strike a medium between Charles Cotton’s, James Chetham’s and Leisenring’s dressing for both wings and hackle.




Medium hare’s ear mixed with golden stone antron on orange Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk

Tan hen’s back, very lightly speckled

Although the Cow-turd or Cowdung is traditionally a winged wet fly, its simplicity lends itself to a soft-hackled dressing. It is tied to represent a terrestrial (Scatophaga stercoraria, T. Donald Overton explains) born most prolifically near pastures where cattle have recently grazed. The insect’s point of origin is the fly’s namesake. Charles Cotton gives a dressing in his additions to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1676). It is a May dressing: “We have then the Cow-turd flie; the dubbing light brown, and yellow mixt, the wing the dark grey feather of a Mallard.” James Cheatham provides the almost exactly the same dressing in the list of flies he appends to a later edition of his  Anglers Vade Mecum (1681): “Dubbing light Brown and Yellow mix’d, the Wings of the dark Grey Feather of a wild Mallard.”

The pattern is essentially unchanged since Cotton published his dressing. T. Donald Overton provides an overview of this history in his “Flies of Yesteryear” column in the Spring Special issue of 1977. He explains that “Generations of fly tiers have not ignored the Cow Dung, as evidenced by the countless dressings described in famous angling books. Besides Charles Cotton, Richard and Charles Bowlker mention it in The Art of Angling (1747). Other historic works that included dressing of this fly are Robert Salter’s The Modern Angler (1811), C. Bainbridge’s The Fly Fishers Guide (1816, Alfred Ronald’s Fly Fishers Entomology (1836), G. P. R. Pulman’s Vade Mecum of Fly Fishing (1849), W. Blacker’s The Angling Flies (1853), J. Jackson’s The Practical Fly Fisher (1854), Henry Wade’s Rod Fishing with Fly (1861), St. John Dick’s Flies and Fly Fishing (1873), James Ogden’s On Fly Tying (1879), and F. M. Halford’s Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886).”

James Leisenring also gives a dressing of the Cowdung in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). He notes that

“The Cowdung is not a water-bred fly but it is blown into the water and taken eagerly by the trout in streams flowing through meadows where cattle are grazing. If the weather is open they appear from March throughout the season and they may be seen in various sizes clustered on every cow dropping. The wings are almost transparent and should be imitated with the land rail feather that has the pinkish tinge of the natural fly. The body should be dressed rather full and rough.

HOOK  12,13.
SILK  Orange.
HACKLE Ginger hackle similar to the color of the body.
BODY  Yellow crewel wool, seal fur or mohair mixed with a little brown fur to soften the glare and give the whole a dirty orange tinge.
WINGS Land rail slightly longer than the body and sloping back close to the body, glossy side out.”

In Wet Flies (1995), Dave Hughes lists a more modern dressing of the Cowdung:

“Hook: 2x stout, size 12-16.
Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0 nylon.
Hackle: Brown hen.
Body: Dark olive and cinnamon fur dubbing, mixed, or Hare-Tron #24, Olive Brown.
Wing: Gray goose or mallard wing quill sections.”