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, 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, 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-Bonddu, Starling 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, March 11, 2015

Blue Partridge




Raw wool - New Zealand Romney, dubbed thinly on blue tying thread, heavier behind the hackle


As a point of terminology, flies named Blue Partridge, Gravel Spinner, Spider Fly, Gravel Bed Fly, and Sand Flie seem interchangeable in historical angling texts, but as a matter of entomology, the Blue Partridge seems to refer to the emergence (or reemergence) of the Diptera - midges, gnats, or craneflies - in early May, after the earlier emergence that Michael Theakston, Alfred Ronalds, and other anglers indicate.

In North-Country Flies (1886), Pritt dresses the No. 44, the Blue Partridge with

“WINGS.-Hackled with a feather from a Partridge’s back.
BODY.-Blue silk dubbed with a little lead-coloured lamb’s wool”

Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee include an almost exact dressing in their Brook and River Trouting (1916), No. 19, the Gravel Bed, a "crane-fly." The only difference between their dressing and Pritt's is the dubbing: they recommend "blue-grey fur from the flank of an Opossum." And they note that the Gravel Bed is a "useful fly in a coloured water." Sylvester Lister also includes a Blue Patridge in his 1898 manuscript, printed by Leslie Magee in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994). He dresses the Blue Partridge or “Gravel Bed Spinner,” No. 18, with the “Speckled feather (bluish) from partridge back or silver pheasant. Head, magpie herl. Body, light blue covered with heron’s herl. Remarks Comes on early in May, often kills well on bright days to end of July.” Magee notes that Lister’s No. 18 is the same as John Swarbrick’s Sand Flie, No. 17 on his List of Wharfedale Flies (1807), which Magee also reprints:

“Sir if you Take notice upon the sand Beds Abought the 10 of May you will see these Flyes in Great Abundance as they bred in the sand She is a Winged Flie the Feather is Taken of a mallard what we call a Drake the feather Must be of a Sandey Brown much the same Collour as the Feather of a partridge feather some Times of a Silver pheasant Wing Sir it must be made Very small when I say small I mean Harld at the Head with a Magpie Harl purple silk Rapt down the Bodey with one turn of a feather for a Hearing saw (Heron Sheugh – a name still used in Yorkshire for the Grey heron) the Feather Comes of the Black Legd with a Black hen Neck Feather Sir Fish This Flie at the End.”

Roger Woolley chose to separate the Gravel Bed Spinner, a dressing he recommended fishing dry or wet, and the Blue Partridge. Under the heading "Yorkshire and North Country Wet Flies” in his Modern Trout Fly Dressing (1932), Woolley included a sparse, soft-hackled dressing, for the Blue Partridge:

Body.—Blue fur ribbed with blue tying sik.
Hackle.—Pale brown partridge.”               

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Yaller Hammer; Yallerhammer; or Yellow Hammer

The origins of the Yallerhammer are so obscure they will likely never be known, yet few flies exemplify the heritage of Southern angling more. The Southern angler will insist that the Yallerhammer sprang from the rustic fly boxes of Appalachia sui generis or, as the argument usually goes, that it developed in a geographical vacuum, cut off from a larger angling culture. Armed only with conjecture and pride, Southern anglers have declared the singularity of the Yallerhammer so long that it has become more than a fly in the vise. It's a proof, the faint, lingering trace of the longstanding tradition of Southern fly dressing. And it's all there can be - where the written record is lacking, memory must suffice.

"Art is no part of southern life," William Faulkner asserted: "We need to talk, to tell, since oratory is our heritage." Thus the annals of Southern Appalachian fly fishing are in the mouths of its anglers or on the ends of their lines. And, thus, the Yallerhammer. The art of any author is lasting. A book of fly dressings as old as the fifteenth century or the nineteenth-century manuscript record of a gentleman's angling club endures intact. But the art of the fly tier must always have dissolution as its goal. If they are well-tied and serve their purpose, the best flies will ravel eventually in a trout's jaw. 

It is unlikely that the angler who first lashed a yallerhammer’s primary to the shank of a hook and wound it to the eye died proudly for having left behind an icon of Southern fly tying. It was probably a simpler satisfaction - in having substituted the hackles of a mountain woodpecker for the shorebird hackles of the golden plover, that fly tier had brought the memory of a dressing from the North Country to North America and made it Southern Appalachia's own. "It's fine to think that you will leave something behind you when you die," Faulkner noted, "but it's better to have made something you can die with." It's the right sort of pride for a Southern angler and a very pleasant conjecture on the whole.

Dressed as a palmer, the Yallerhammer is not without precedent—perhaps the Scots-Irish settlers of these mountains applied the hackles from local game birds to their fly dressing traditions. In his Practical Fly-Fisher (1854), John Jackson recommended flies with dark bodies accented by a palmered, dingy-yellowish hackle: one is "A good Palmer for Spring," tied with a "body, green herl of Peacock, gold tinsel, green silk, with a greenish stained or grizzled Cock’s hackle over all." Such "greenish stained" hackle would likely take on a deep-yellow cast in a swift run. Jackson also notes that another “good general fly is a mottled hackle, from a Hen Grouse’s neck, wrapped in a body of brown Peacock’s herl and yellow silk," but its variant is more like the modern Yallerhammer: "N. B. Our local Anglers use a Golden Plover’s Hackle, and Tom Tit’s tail for the same purpose." Jackson's North Country contemporaries clearly had no qualms about substituting hackles - our Southern Highlanders were likely as quick to substitute the dingy-yellow primaries of their local yallerhammer for the dark ash-and-yellow hackles of the ocean-distant golden plover.

The tradition of Southern fly fishing, however old it may be, has been best documented recently, in books that include Don Howell and his son Kevin’s Tying and Fishing Southern Appalachian Trout Flies (1999), L. J. DeCuir’s Southeastern   Flies (1999), and Roger Lowe’s Fly Pattern Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains (2001). For all of these anglers, the Yaller Hammer, Yallarhammer Nymph, or Yellow Hammer, respectively, is a palmered nymph dressed on a standard nymph hook: a down eye, 2X long, 2X heavy hook with a perfect bend. 

This dressing of the Howell's “Yaller” Hammer uses yellow dyed bobwhite quail undercoverts rather than the primaries more typical of the dressing and does not use a clipped palmer hackle. As a concession to the size and type of hook and in keeping with the established patterns of the blog, I have used a size 14 dry fly hook rather than the heavier nymph hook these fly tier prescribe




Golden pheasant

Black floss or wool

Imitation “Yallar” Hammer feather palmered

Much like the North Country’s Dotterell soft hackle, the Southern Appalachian Yallarhammer is now almost impossible to tie authentically. Its namesake hackle comes from the primaries of a protected bird, the yellow-shafted flicker. Don and Kevin Howell give an extensive treatment of the fly and the hackle in Tying and Fishing Southern Appalachian Trout Flies (1999), which is available from the Davidson River Outfitters. They note that the plumage of the yellow-shafted flicker has a “yellowish/black cast," so that local anglers know it alternately as a “Flicker, Yellow-Shafted Flicker, Golden-Winged Woodpecker, High-holer, Yellow Hammer, or ‘Yallar’ Hammer (the local pronunciation).” Don Howell suggested substituting yellow-dyed bobwhite quail or mourning dove primaries to simulate the distinctive "yellowish/black cast." The traditional dressing for the “Yallar” Hammer is the one he calls the “Yaller” Hammer Wooly Worm.

“THREAD: Black uni-thread
WIRE: .010 - .020
TAIL: Gold Pheasant
BODY: Black floss or wool
HACKLE: Imitation “Yallar” Hammer feather palmered through body.”

Mr. Howell notes that the black-bodied dressing was the only dressing he knew, though he “did see some variations in color, including white, yellow and black. All versions seem to produce well, but the black one has always been my favorite.” He describes having had some success dressing the “Yaller” Hammer like a Woolly Bugger: “Instead of using Golden Pheasant for the tail, I’ve substituted maribou to match the color of the body. Also, at times, I add four to six strands of Crystal Flash to the tail.”

Mr. DeCuir notes that the “most common substitute for the original feather now is the Yellow Dyed Grizzly Hackle,” a much easier hackle to obtain already-dyed. It is reminiscent of Jackson's dressings. This fly is also dressed on a size 14 dry fly hook.

L. J. DeCuir nods to the tradition of Southern Appalachian fly tying in his Southeastern Flies (1999). While some anglers suggest the Yallerhammer is a child of Cherokee angling tradition, no record exists to support the supposition. DeCuir, on the other hand, suggests that the pioneers who settled Southern Appalachia in the western migration, beginning as early as the eighteenth century, “were not English gentlemen” who were “carrying with them the traditions of the dry fly developed on the Test and the Itchen.” Those dry fly traditions would not be codified in Great Britain until the mid-nineteenth century, and the settlers of the American Southeast were more often Scots-Irish than English anyway, more given to recollections of North Country and Highland fly dressing than chalk stream tactics. Mr. DeCuir notes his “suspicion that the nymph/wet fly pattern is closest to the original,” a suspicion that recalls a fly dressed hacklewise with a yellow-shafted flicker's hackle, much like a traditional soft hackle. DeCuir dresses his Yallerhammer on a hook from 4-14 with

Thread: Black
Weight: “Lead” wire or substitute
Palmered Ribbing: Yellow Dyed Grizzly Hackle
Body: 2-5 strands of Peacock Herl depending upon size of the hook”

In addition to this dressing, Mr. DeCuir includes five others, traditional (including yellow-shafted flicker hackle) and modern. As a “Classic Wet Fly Pattern,” he dresses the Yallerhammer on a wet fly hook:

Thread: Black
Body: Peacock Herl
Hackle: Split feather of Yellow Shafted Woodpecker (Flicker) tied on as a wet-fly collar”

This “Classic Wet-Fly Pattern” that Mr. DeCuir lists uses yellow dyed bobwhite quail as a substitute, like the Howells suggest, and is dressed on a size 14 dry fly hook.

In his Fly Pattern Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains (2001), Roger Lowe offers a similar dressing to those of the Howells and Mr. DeCuir, but he recommends grouse dyed yellow as a substitute for the split primaries of the traditional dressing, like Jackson's recommendation to use hen grouse on the palmers he recommended. Lowe lists two dressings. The first, the Yellow Hammer Nymph, is the more traditional and dressed thus, with black thread as Lowe illustrates it:

“Tail: Long side of Grouse feather
Body: Peacock herl
Hackle: Dyed yellow Grouse feather”

And the second:

“Thread: Yellow silk
Tail: Wood duck
Hackle: Dyed yellow Grouse feather
Body: Golden yellow floss

The most common way of tying the popular Yellow Hammer pattern, can be fished wet or dry.”

This size 14 dressing of Mr. Lowe’s Yellow Hammer substitutes a yellow dyed bobwhite quail hackle for the yellow-shafted flicker hackle, rather than the yellow dyed grouse that Mr. Lowe suggests.