Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Starling and Herl; or, Brown Clock

This dressing uses a starling shoulder hackle rather than the starling covert Sylvester Nemes suggests.




Starling shoulder

In his first work on dressing and fishing soft hackles, The Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), Sylvester Nemes listed fourteen general soft hackle patterns. The Starling-and-Herl was the last on the list, and he dressed it with

body:  Peacock herl
hackle:  Small covert hackle from starling wing.”

An earlier precedent for Nemes’s Starling-and-Herl might be the Black Snipe that T. E. Pritt mentions at the end of his list of flies in North-Country Flies (1886). However, the dressing for a peacock herl-bodied fly dressed with a starling hackle appears verbatim on the short list of flies that John Younger compiled for fishing the Tweed in his On River Angling for Salmon and Trout (1840). W. H. Lawrie reprinted the list in Scottish Trout Flies (1966). Younger's starling and herl fly is a nameless fly, distinguished only by the best months for fishing it, June, July, and August. Younger dressed it thus:

“Wing: Cock sparrow wing-feather.
Body: Peacock’s herl.”

John Jackson dressed a starling and herl pattern that falls somewhere between a palmer and a hackle, the Brown Clock, No. 10, in his Practical Fly-Fisher (1854). Like the Coch-y-Bonddu or Bracken Clock, the Brown Clock is presumably a beetle imitation. The dressing is simple: "Wings.-Glossy feather of a Starling's neck, wrapped on a body of Peacock's herl and brown silk. Well taken in bright frosty weather." The accompanying plate III depicts the Brown Clock as being heavily hackled on the front half of the hook shank, wound through the peacock herl body, much like Dave Hughes dressed his Hare's Ear Flymph in Wet Flies (1995).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fern Fly or Woodcock and Orange; or, Soldier Fly

This dressing of Richard Bowlker’s Fern Fly uses an American woodcock primary for the hackle.



Burnt orange

Orange Pearsall’s marabou silk, lightly waxed

Woodcock covert

Leslie Magee traces the recurrence of popular dressings in North Country angling literature as well as the coterie publication of various North Country angling clubs from 1651—1885 in his Fly Fishing: the North Country Tradition (1994). He locates the Fern Fly or Woodcock and Orange in at least eight angling texts:  in Charles Cotton’s 1676 additions to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler; James Chetham’s Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), John Williamson’s British Angler (1740); in R. Brooks (1793); John Swarbrick’s List of Wharefdale Flies (1807); George Bainbridge’s Fly-fisher’s Guide (1816); Michael Theakston’s List of Natural Flies (1853); and William Brumfitt’s manuscript (1885).

In a book that Magee does not include, Alfred Ronalds' Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836), the Fern Fly is listed as a terrestrial, also known as the Soldier Fly. Ronalds also gives a winged dressing and, as is his wont, a buzz or hackle dressing, a furnace palmer or heavily dressed front hackle on an orange silk body. John Jackson, whose dressings Magee also excludes provides directions for a winged Soldier Fly in his Practical Fly-Fisher (1854), as does Theakston. Neither of these dressings uses woodcock as winging or primary hackle - few of the Fern Fly dressings that Magee indicates use woodcock or orange at all.

Oddly enough, Magee does not locate the Fern Fly in either of the Bowlkers’ editions of The Art of Angling. In the 1753 edition, Richard Bowlker suggests dressing the fly for mid-June through mid-July, and his dressing is the one that gives it the name Woodcock and Orange: “He is a four-winged fly; his body very slender and of an orange colour; he is to be fished with at any time of the day, from sun-rise till sunset, being a very killing fly: His wings are made with a woodcock’s feather, his body with orange-coloured silk.” His dressing seems to be a direct precedent for the Brown Fern Fly that John Kirkbride included The Northern Angler (1837), which only added a small dubbing ball thorax of hare's neck fur behind the hackle. 

This dressing of Charles Bowlker’s Fern Fly uses turkey tail for the body, American woodcock primaries for a hackle, and orange Pearsall’s gossamer silk twisted as a ribbing.

Richard’s son Charles dresses the Fern Fly in his 1774 edition of The Art of Angling. He is not as convinced of its efficacy as his father: "The Fern Fly comes in about the latter end of June, and does not continue above a week. He has four wings that stand upright on his back. His wings and body are made of a woodcock’s feather, ribbed with orange coloured silk. He is to be fished with in a morning, the first of any fly, till abot eleven o’clock, and then you may change your fly according to the brightness or dullness of the day, for there are many flies on the water at that time."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Pat's Nymph

This dressing excludes the lead wire that Pat Proffitt recommends, and uses a size 14 dry fly hook rather than the down eye, 2X long, 2X heavy hook with a perfect bend Pat Proffitt assigns. This dresses uses a lightly-variegated, smoky dun grizzly hackle and a brown furnace hen hackle.




Brown and grizzly hackle fibers

Muskrat dubbing

Soft brown and grizzly hackle

Although the fly is billed as a nymphal pattern, the basic, tied-in-the-round design of the Pat’s Nymph is essentially a tailed soft hackle dressing. L. J. DeCuir includes this fly in Southeastern Flies (2000) with two others developed by Pat Proffitt, “a legendary fly fisherman of East Tennessee,” classing the set of three as “mountain flies—simple by highly effective.”

DeCuir notes two variations for dressing the Pat's Nymph: a copper wire rib for the full length of the body and/or partridge substituted for poultry hackle. He points out, as well, that local, East Tennessee tiers often simplify the dressing by leaving out the grizzly hackle, using instead only brown hackle for the tail and collar. 

In a chapter of Masters on the Nymph (1979), "Advanced Nymphing Techniques," Chuck Fothergill describes a Muskrat Nymph that is dressed much like the fly many anglers in East Tennessee also refer to as Pat's Nymph. Fothergill dressed his Muskrat with brown hackle for the tailing and hackle, with lighter tying thread. He notes that "this simple pattern of brown and gray has proven itself for years on countless rivers and lakes."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cinnamon Fly

This dressing follows Ronalds’ suggestion for dressing the Cinnamon Fly "buzz," but as a hackle rather than a palmer. It uses a reddish-brown speckled hen hackle in incorporate each hackling option Ronalds suggests for the buzz dressing.



Dark brown

Silk buttonhole twist – Coats & Clark’s 47 tan, size D

Reddish brown hen hackle

Alfred Ronalds includes the Cinnamon Fly, No. 40, in his Flyfisher’s Entomology (1836) as a dressing for August, tied to represent a caddis that “comes from a water pupa.” He recommends a winged and a “buzz” or palmered dressing:

“BODY.  Fawn-coloured floss silk, tied on with silk thread of the same colour.
WINGS.  Feather of a yellow brown hen’s wing, rather darker than the landrail’s wing feather.
LEGS.  A ginger hackle.

It is made buzz with a grouse feather or a red hackle stained brown with copperas, and tied on the same body.”

Aside from the body material, Ronald's winged pattern follows the earlier precedent that George Bainbridge included in his Fly Fisher's Guide (1816): the Cinnamon Fly, No. 32, "has four wings which are large in proportion to the body. They should be dressed full, and made from the pale reddish brown feathers of a hen, which approach the colour of cinnamon; the body of any dark brown fur; and a ginger hackle for legs." A "dark brown fur body" would simulate the same color as the "fawn-coloured floss silk," once wet, that Ronalds suggests.

John Jackson also lists the Cinnamon Fly as No. 48 in his Practical Fly-Fisher (1854).  an August dressing, a winged fly that “continues nearly to the end of the season.” T. E. Pritt cites Jackson’s dressing as a precedent for his own, noting that it is “a capital summer fly, particularly in the evening.”  Pritt’s Cinnamon, No. 55.

Some authors (Sylvester Lister, for instance) regard the Cinnamon Fly to be the same as the August Brown or August Dun. Leslie Magee's Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), which includes Lister's manuscript, makes the significant distinction between the Cinnamon Fly or August Brown, a mayfly, and the Cinnamon Sedge, a sedge or caddis.

“WINGS.—Hackled with a feather from a Brown Owl’s wing.
BODY.—Yellow silk, dubbed with fur from a water Rat.
HEAD.—Peacock herl.”

The Buss Brown is a likely precedent for later dressings of the Cinnamon Fly. James Chetham includes it in the 1700 edition of his Anglers Vade Mecum (1681), as part of a list of flies he adds to augment the list he reprints from Charles Cotton's additions to Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler (1676). The Buss Brown is the only fly Chetham adds to Cotton's flies for August, and it is "Made with the light Brown Hair of the Ear of a Cur, the Head Black, Wings of the Feather of a Red Hen Whipt with Orange coloured Silk." 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hare's Ear Flymph; Hare's Ear

This dressing winds the hackle forward from a point a third of the way down the shank from the eye and ties it off behind the eye. it also substitutes red badger for true, black stemmed and tipped furnace. And in keeping with the established standard for hook size and representation on the blog, this dressing uses a size 14 dry fly hook rather than the nymph hook Hughes prescribes.



Red Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Red badger
Narrow gold tinsel

Medium dark hare’s ear

Red badger

Even before the advent of the barrel-bodied, highly effective versions of the Hare's Ear that gained popularity in the 70s and 80s and the gold-bead-headed variety that showed up in the 90s, the Hare’s Ear nymph was long a staple of the modern fly box, just as the the winged wet Hare's Ear had earlier been a stock pattern for southern chalkstream anglers and their North Country counterparts in England.

In his Wet Flies (1995) - a new, updated edition is available - Dave Hughes nodded to American wet fly traditions established by James Leisenring  and Vernon “Pete” Hidy in the first half of the twentieth century, which drew on the nymphal dressings developed by G. E. M. Skues. Leisenring and Hidy tied wet flies that Hidy would term "flymphs." While Leisenring readily lumped flymphs among traditional North Country Patterns (like his Light Snipe and Yellow), classic winged wets and Stewart's spiders, Hughes explicitly distinguishes the flymph from the soft-hackled fly by virtue of the spiky body and hackle. 

Drawing on Leisenring and Hidy, Hughes explains that the hackle of a flymph “should not dominate the body of the fly. In a well-tied flymph, the body and hackle entrap bubbles of air and take them beneath the surface. A properly tied body shows the primary color of any insect that is around when fish are feeding, plus some slight undercolor that shows through when the fly is wet in the water. The primary color comes from the dubbing fur selected. The undercolor comes from the silk on which the fur is spun. The two colors should harmonize with each other. They should also be in harmony with whatever insect is available to fish the time you’re using the fly.” Hughes' description certainly distinguishes the Hare's Ear Flymph from traditional soft-hackle dressings like the Grouse and Green or Orange Partridge, but the uniqueness of its thoracic hackling and the important role the plays in creating the overall effect of life qualifies it for inclusion here, much like the thoracic hackling of nymphs and hatching duns qualified W. H. Lawrie's Book of the Rough Stream Nymph (1947) for inclusion in Sylvester Nemes's Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2003).

However contentious this point of definition may be, Hughes' Hare's Ear Flymph (and his flymph in general) is  a pattern somewhere between a soft hackle and a winged wet or between a soft hackle and nymph tied in the round, like the nymphal patterns that Charles Brooks advanced in his Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout (1976). Hughes dresses his flymph with a tail and a full body dubbed on silk from the bend to eye of the hook and a rib wrapped over that to the thorax. He ties a hackle in behind the eye, dubs the thorax, and winds the hackle from the eye of the hook back toward the bend, tying it off in the front third or fourth of the body. He finishes by winding the silk back through the hackle toward the eye of the hook (a technique he recommends for dressing and strengthening Stewart's spiders) and then whip finishing the silk behind the eye of the hook.

“Hook: 12-16.
Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer silk, crimson red.
Hackle: Brown or furnace hen.
Tails: Brown or furnace hen hackle.
Rib: narrow gold tinsel.
Body: Hare’s mask fur, or #7 Hare’s Ear Plus, tan.”

Prior to modern Hare's Ear nymphs and Hughes' Hare's Ear Flymph, the classic, winged Hare’s Ear that Leisenring includes in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941), which shows the influence of the Hare’s Ear wet fly that G. E. M. Skues included in Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream (1910), was the predominant dressing of the Hare's Ear. 

While hare's ear often appears as the body material in North Country and Scottish patterns, it rarely shows up exclusively as a soft hackle  In the Practical Angler (1857), for instance, W. C. Stewart described the importance of “hare’s lug,” a Scottish denomination for hare’s ear fur, in dressing Border patterns, particularly for dressing his winged wet fly, the Hare-lug, which he fished alongside his famous, wingless spiders. Stewart draws distinctions like Hughes' for considering the silk in conjunction with the body to create a specific representational effect. He does prescribe specific wings for his three Hare-lug dressings, but the body remains consistent throughout.

The variations in each of Stewart's dressings recalls the Art of Angling (1843), where William Blacker lists similar dressings for the Hare’s Ear, identical in its versatility and the suggestion that any hackle or winging coupled with a hare’s ear body will fish:

“Body, Hare’s ear fur, and a little yellow mohair, mixed.
Wings, Starling, bunting, or woodcock.”

This dressing substitutes a mourning dove covert for the snipe undercovert John Kirkbride prescribes, and it uses tan thread. Also, it has"a tip of gold" for "when the water is brownish."

One of the few references to a Hare’s Ear dressed as a soft hackle or "spider" is in John Kirkbride’s Northern Angler (1837). Kirkbride gives dressings for two varieties of Hare’s Ear, one dressed with a dark fur body and the other dressed with a mixture of fur and yellow mohair; each body can be alternately winged or hackled, the wings and hackles being substituted for soft hackles. These are hardly the modern Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear or even Hare’s Ear Flymph. Kirkbride dressed the soft-hackled, dark-bodied  Hare’s Ear with a “fine hackle from the inside of the wing of a jack-snipe” and suggested that the fly tier “add a tip of gold when the water is brownish.” Kirkbride regards the Hare’s Ear as “an excellent spring fly; indeed, it will kill during the whole season.” 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dark Snipe and Orange; or, Dark Snipe



Burnt orange

Orange Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Snipe covert

In his Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee notes that “T. E. Pritt will always be remembered for his dressing of the Dark Snipe (Snipe and Purple); a fly which is likely to be found on the majority of fly casts in the first few weeks of the trout season.” 

While Pritt often gets credit for the dressing, Magee suggests that an earlier manuscript precedent exists. William Brumfitt, whose illustrations Pritt copied directly for the color plates in Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885), listed two dressings for the Dark Snipe. In addition to the purple-bodied dressing Pritt listed, Brumfitt also favored an orange-bodied dressing of the the simple, effective Dark Snipe:

"Body; Orange silk
Wing; Hackled with the feather from outside snipe’s wing."

In the comprehensive catalog of trout flies that Roger Woolley includes at the close of his Modern Trout Fly Dressing, third edition (1950), the Snipe and Orange is no. 115 and it follows Brumfitt's dressing almost to the letter. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bracken Clock; or, Brechan Clock




Peacock herl on red silk or twisted with tying thread

A cock pheasant’s neck feather

In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee includes a dressing for the Bracken Clock among his list of thirty preferred patterns that he attributes to a 1875 manuscript drafted  by William Brumfitt. T. E. Pritt reproduced Bumfitt's manuscript in the hand-colored plates of his Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885) and the subsequent North Country Flies (1886). Brumfitt's dressing of the Bracken Clock is the standard dressing - little variation exists between the dressings of various angling authors. Roger Woolley's Bracken Clock, in the third edition of Modern Trout Fly Dressing (1950), is an exact match. 

Like the Coch-y-BondduStarling and Herl, and (perhaps) the Black Snipe, the Bracken Clock is a beetle or "clock" imitation. 

John Kirkbride describes what is, perhaps, a surprisingly modern dressing of the Bracken Clock, his Brechan Clock, in his Northern Angler (1837). He notes first that “the artificial brechan clock is seldom used, as the angler is generally more successful with the natural one.” Kirkbride describes baiting the hook with two beetles threaded face-to-face on the shank. But he dresses the artificial using “peacock with black ostrich harle for the body, and a black hackle for the legs, and the red feather of the partridge tail for wings; or, it may be made of a fine brown feather from the cock-pheasant’s breast, with a little tip of starling’s wing-feather at the tail, to represent the underwings. The red or upper feather must, of course, be tied down at the head and tail, to give it the appearance of a beetle. The body must be made full, as above-described, with a black hackle for legs.” What Kirkbride understands as winging - and he is technically correct, considering the placement of a beetle's wings - he dresses it like an angler today would dress a fly's shellback 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Willow or Withy Fly

This dressing uses yellow Pearsall's gossamer silk.



Mole’s fur spun on yellow silk

A dark dun cock’s hackle strongly tinged a copper-colour

Alfred Ronalds lists the Willow (or Withy) Fly as no. 44, the last fly to be imitated during the regular season, in his Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836). He describes this diminutive stonefly—“Order, Neuroptera. Family, Perlidæ. Genus, Nemoura. Species, Nebulosa.”—as hatching in September and notes that "it is extremely abundant during this month and the next, and even later in the season. On very fine days it may be found on the water in February. It generally flutters across the stream, and is best imitated buzz fashion."

Publishing at the same time, John Turton lists the hatch of the Willow Fly in September and October. He dresses a hackled Willow Fly, no. 68, in the Angler’s Manual (1836) “with a yellow silk: wing, a blue grizzled cock’s hackle feather; body, blue squirrel’s fur and yellow down mixed, twisted on the silk. Best on cold stormy days.”

This dressing of John Jackson’s Small Willow Fly uses java Pearsall's gossamer silk and is dressed more heavily, in keeping with the illustrations of the natural and the pattern than Jackson includes on alternating plates.

John Jackson gives two dressings for the Willow Fly, no. 57 the Small Willow Fly and no. 58 the Large Willow Fly, in his Practical Fly-Fisher (1854). He dresses the Small Willow Fly “by wrapping a feather from the inside of a Snipe’s wing, or a small grizzled hackle, on a body of light brown silk, or Mole’s fur and yellow silk,” and, Jackson notes, the fly is “best on warm days.”

He dresses the Large Willow Fly as a winged wet with

Wings.—Inside of Woodcock’s wing feather.
Body.—Moles fur spun on yellow silk.
Legs.—Brown Hackle.

This fly is well made by hackling a grizzled hackled of a copperish hue on the above body.”

This dressing substitutes blue rabbit underfur mixed with golden stone antron and dubbed on yellow Pearsall's gossamer silk as a substitute for the blue squirrel fur and yellow mohair body that Richard Bowlker recommends.

In Nymphs (1974), Ernest Schwiebert credits the Bowlkers with first offering a historical imitation for the Willow Fly, and he lauds the endurance of their identification and representation as a testament to their studies. Richard Bowlker’s Art of Angling (1758) describes the Willow Fly like Ronalds, noting that it “comes about the beginning of September, and continues till the latter end of October: He is a four-winged fly, and generally flutters upon the surface of the water: To be fished with in cold stormy days, being then most plentiful upon the water.” Richard Bowlker suggests a dressing with “wings made of a blue grizzled cock’s hackle, the body of the blue part of a squirrel’s fur, mixed with a little yellow mohair.”

In his revisions (1774) to his father’s original work, Charles Bowlker also points to the Willow Fly’s four wings as a distinguishing feature for the stonefly in late summer and autumn: “He has four wings which lie fly on his back: his belly of a dirty yellow, and his back of a dark brown.” To represent the Willow Fly, Charles gives a dressing with “wings made of a dun cock’s hackle a little freckled; his body of squirrel’s furr, ribbed with yellow silk, and covered lightly with the same coloured hackle as the wings.”

Under the heading “Stoneflies” in the third edition of Modern Trout Dressing (1950), Roger Woolley notes that the Willow Fly is synonymous with the Brown Owl, which shows up as no. 5 in T. E. Pritt’s North Country Flies (1886) and no. 11 in Harfield Brooks and Norman Lee’s Brook and River Trouting (1916). They dress these flies for April, May, and June, rather than September through October (and even through February) like Ronalds, Turton, and the Bowlkers. This suggests two different insects. More likely, Pritt, Edmonds, and Lee used the Waterhen Bloa, with its mole or muskrat body on yellow silk, to imitate the Willow Fly instead of the Brown Owl. Pritt, in particular, recommends the Waterhen Bloa as “indispensable during March and April, and again towards the latter end of the season”; Edmonds and Lee specifically prescribe its usefulness from “March to end of April, and again in September.”

John Kirkbride includes a Willow Fly in the North-Country Angler (1837), noting that its emergence coincides with the Yellow Dun in May and June. The stonefly he dubs the Willow Fly seems much more like a Yellow Sally - an insect and imitation that Kirkbride does not include in the text - than the later season stonefly that Richard Bowlker described almost a century earlier as a Willow Fly. Kirkbride’s Willow Fly is “a very delicate-looking fly, and the trout are very fond of it, particularly in the evenings. The body is of a delicate transparent yellow colour, with a greenish or olive shade; it must be ribbed with gold-coloured silk,” and “when it is made as a spider, a feather from the breast of the yellow plover must be used.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August Brown; or, August Dun




Silk buttonhole twist – Coats & Clark’s lemon 223, size D

Tan tying thread dubbed with hare’s mask

Red grouse shoulder

In Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004), Sylvester Nemes includes some of the flies Francis M. Walbran listed in his column “Monthly Notes on North-Country Trout Flies” in The Fishing Gazette. For August 15, 1885, Walbran listed the August Brown first: “Body: Light brown silk, dubbed sparingly with hare’s face, and ribbed with yellow silk, dressed hacklewise with grouse’s feather.”

In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee notes that the August Brown hatch is an autumn corollary to the springtime March Brown and that its name is interchangeable with the August Dun or Drake, the Autumn Dun, Cinnamon Fly (which hatches alongside a Cinnamon Sedge), and the Whirling Blue Dun. He includes Sylvester Lister's 's manuscript, which gives a September dressing, the "Cinnamon or August Drake," which he dressed with a "feather from under landrail's wing. Head, peacock's herl, body, orange with gold tinsel or covered with herl from cock pheasant's tail feather," noting that the fly is "very abundant on some Yorkshire rivers." 

Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee included a winged August Dun in Brook and River Trouting (1916) which they recommend through the “last week in July, August and September." E. M. Tod also has a winged dressing in Wet Fly Fishing Treated Methodically (1903) for fishing in September. A winged August Brown, No. 47, is  in John Jackson’s Practical Fly-Fisher (1854), as well, a fly that he regards “equally as good in its season as the March Brown, which it very much resembles, though lightered coloured and smaller.”

In his Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836), Alfred Ronalds lists a winged and a hackled dressing for the August Dun No. 38:

“BODY.  Brown floss silk ribbed with yellow silk thread.
TAIL.  Two rabbit’s whiskers.
WINGS.  Feather of a brown hen’s wing.
LEGS.  Plain red hackled stained brown.

It is made buzz with a grouse hackle wound upon the above body.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sandy Moorgame; or, Dark Dun



Dark brown

Silk buttonhole twist – Coats and Clarke’s dark chocolate brown 56-B, size D

Reddish-brown grouse back hackle

T. E. Pritt notes that the Sandy Moorgame, no. 43, “is a very useful fly from May to the end of July, and it is not to be neglected in a brown water clearing after a flood. It is probably identical with the dark dun of Theakston.” Pritt’s dressing calls for

“WINGS.-Hackled with a dark, reddish-brown feather from the back of a Grouse.
BODY.-Dark brown silk.

In Michael Theakston’s List of Natural Flies (1843), a “dun” is not a mayfly, but rather a sedge or caddis; the Dark Dun n0. 50 is a caddis hatching in the late spring or early summer“winged with a dark feather from the Moorcock; brown silk for body; legged with a dark brown hen hackle.”  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wren Tail

This dressing follows William Blacker's substitution suggestion  and uses a hackle from the head of a red grouse in place on a wren tail feather.



Yellow thread

Gold twist

Small red feather on a red grouse’s head

Historically, anglers have dressed the Wren Tail as a terrestrial imitation for the leafhopper, which naturally exhibits ranging in color from a drab monochromatic to a vivid, improbable patterning of colors.

Many author anglers include dressings for a Wren Tail pattern, but only William Blacker in the Art of Angling (1843) includes a substitute for what, today, is a taboo hackle. He relates a Wren Tail dressing that he received from a Devonshire angler.  Dressing this fly calls for a “hook very small (midge). Body—yellow silk, and in some specimens a little gold twist; hackle, either the wren’s tail feather . . . or the small red feather on the cock grouse head.” Blacker’s own Wren Trail Fly is more involved, larger, winged dressing.

Another useful substitute  for wren tail besides the red grouse neck hackle that Blacker specifies is evident in the hackling equivalent that James Blades listed for his Wren Tail in a list of Blades’ patterns that Robert L. Smith included at the end of his North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition (2015), available from Coch-y-Bonddu Books: Blades dressing equates hackle “from the outside of a quail wing” with hackling from a “wren tail.” His dressing for the Wren Tail is

Hook: No. 1 or 0
Silk: Orange
Body: Orange silk dubbed with red fur, and ribbed with gold
Wings: From the outside of a quail wing or wren tail
(A good fly on blustery, showery days, when the fly gets dashing into the water from overhanging growth)

This dressing of John Kirkbride’s “clear water” Wren’s Tail follows Blacker’s substitution for hackle and a mix of olive hare’s ear and medium olive antron for the body.

John Kirkbride includes the Wren’s Tail in his Northern Angler (1837), calling it “an excellent summer fly. The body, if the water be somewhat black, ought to be of light orange mohair, tipt at the tail with a little gold wire or tinsel; or, for clear water, a dusky olive body, tipt as above, suits extremely well; a feather from a wren’s tail must be put round the head as a hackle.”

For Alfred Ronalds’ Wren Tail, this dressing also follows Blacker’s hackle suggestion and uses tan acrylic for the body.

In the Flyfisher’s Entomology (1836), Alfred Ronalds dresses the Wren Tail as a summer terrestrial, the Frog Hopper or Pale Brown Bent Hopper, dressed with a

“BODY.  Ginger-coloured fur ribbed with gold twist.
WINGS AND LEGS.  Feather from a wren’s tail.”