Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Posting Schedule

After four years of biweekly posting, new flies will post to Soft Hackles, Tight Lines on the first Wednesday of every month.

The blog has run from 3 June 2013 to this 17 May 2017 post. Excluding this notice, it has included 105 posts with 103 devoted to a historical account of specific, related dressings. On the whole, the posts have comprised better than 46,000 words and 159 photos of flies tied specifically for the blog. While there is plenty left to research, write, and tie, there is simply not enough time to maintain the current volume of output.

(Some content has been taken down in order to pursue additional writing opportunities outside Soft Hackles, Tight Lines, which will be noted here on the blog as they become available.)

Images here are from Charles Bowlker.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dark Snipe and Green



Pearsall’s Green Gossamer silk

Snipe covert

The Dark Snipe and Green appears on two lists that Robert Lakeland includes in his Teesdale Angler (1858), the “List of Hackle Flies from February to November” and the “List of Hackles and Silks to Suit (Good Killers).” In both lists, the Dark Snipe and Green is dressed for August, and the name provides the directions for dressing the fly.

While it falls outside the Anglo-American province of this blog, the medieval Austrian 
Haslinger Breviary Fishing Tract (1440) lists a fly that seems at least distantly related to the Dark Snipe and Green of Lakeland's lists, although the Tract uses a dingy-olive woodpecker hackle rather than the muddy-dun tones of snipe. Richard C. Hoffman transcribes this dressing as a fly for November or “other autumn” in Richard C. Hoffman's translation of the Breviary. He transcribes the dressing or dressings thus: “und nym gruenspachen federn und wint grĂșen und gelib darunder,” which he translates as “and take green woodpecker feathers and wind green and yellow [silk] under that.” He notes that the green woodpecker is “native across temperate Europe” and that it “has dull olive green upper parts and pale gray-green beneath.” The simple breaks, und or and, between flies on the list and between materials for dressing flies suggests two possible ways of dressing the flies. Either these hackled flies are dressed with bodies from two silks—the fly would have a woodpecker hackle and body of green and yellow silk wound like the Deul Cruik or the Little Dark Watchet—or with single silk bodies that share a common hackle—a woodpecker hackle with a body of green silk or, alternately, a woodpecker hackle with a body of yellow silk. The author's economy of language suggests the latter reading is more accurate, that the dressings conflate different silk bodies that can be dressed from the same bird's hackles, like William Brumfitt's Dark Snipe and Orange or Dark Snipe and Purple.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sand-Piper Hackle

This dressing substitutes a barred American woodcock shoulder feather for the sand-piper covert that John Kirkbride recommends.



Orange Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Flat gold tinsel

Peacock herl

Orange Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Barred American woodcock shoulder feather

John Kirkbride listed the Sand-Piper Hackle in his Northern Angler (1837), noting that “some of our old sportsman are very partial to this fly. They use it in the spring when the water is clearing off. Let the body be of orange-silk, ribbed with a fine peacock harle, and tipt with gold; take a small specked feather from the outside of the wing of a sand-piper for hackle—hook, no. 8.”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Black with Red

This dressing uses black antron for the thorax rather than the “black down,” presumably felted rabbit fur from a hat, in the original dressing. It also substitutes crow shoulder for black hen neck.



Red Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Embroidery thread – DMC 310 black

Black antron

Crow shoulder

John Turton lists the Black with Red as a hackle for “all the season,” no. 28 the second list he includes in The Angler’s Manual (1836). He dresses it “with red silk: wing, black hen’s feather from neck; body, black silk at tail, and black down close under wing.”

Black down is a material Turton recommended that every fly tier keep in a “dubbing  or down book,” which “must be made of a few leaves of parchment sewed separately to the outside leaves, to give room to shut when the downs are put in, which must be done by cutting them across with small pointed scissors, about a quarter of an inch from each other; then the pieces through it;  this will hold them fast and the leaves maybe turned over as to find any color wanted. Small pockets must be made at each end” for the furs with “no skin attached to them.” When Turton assigns “black down” to a dressing, he is apparently referring to the black down he would include in a down book, “from the best stuff hats,” rather than a down feather or after shaft.

The combination of red thread, a black body, and black hackle recalls the James Leisenring’s dressing of the Black Gnat in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cumberland; or, Crimson Partridge



Red Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Tying silk

Medium partridge

In his treatment of Hills’s A Summer on the Test (1924) in Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004), Nemes cites Hills’s passing comment on the pattern: “One of the softest, most compressible, patterns is the partridge hackle, and, whether this be the reason or not, I consider it the best sunk fly on the Test. Its body, of silk, can be of many colours. I find the old Cumberland pattern, the orange partridge, best, and next to that the red.” By Nemes's account, anglers  on the Test seemingly drew little distinction between the red and orange bodies, although the Partridge and Orange has endured as a more distinct, popular fly for generations of anglers.

In The Soft-Hackled Fly Addict (1981), Sylvester Nemes names the Cumberland, a fly which John Waller Hills seemingly only mentions in passing. Nemes notes that “Hills believed this fly to be the most effective sunk fly on the Test, particularly on hot days and in slow water,” and he provides this dressing for Hills’s fly:

Body: Red or orange silk floss
Hackle: Medium partridge
Rib: Narrow gold wire

Dressed with a rib, the Cumberland becomes the Orange Partridge that Harfield Norman and Edmond Lee list in their Brook and River Trouting (1916). In his River Keeper (1934), which Nemes also notes, Hills recalls a similar, ribbed pattern favored by the riverkeeper William Lunn, the Red Partridge Hackle.

In list of his thirty North Country flies, included at the head of Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee attributes the dressing, the Crimson Partridge, to an unnamed 1887 publication by James Blades. Robert L. Smith includes the Crimson Partridge, one of James Blades’ patterns “taken from T K Wilson’s angling articles in the Dalesman magazine of 1949,” in an appendix at the end of his The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition (2015). He additionally notes that the Crimson Partridge is a “splendid fly in a full brown water from the beginning of the season to the end.” Many of the manuscript and publications that Smith includes list the fly less as a dressing for hot days and slow water, like Hills, and more of a dressing for discolored water.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gray Hen Hackle Wet; or Grey Nymph





Grizzly hen

Dave Hughes includes the Gray Hen Hackle Wet in the color plates that accompany the first edition of his Wet Flies (1995). To dress the fly, Hughes recommends:

“Hook: 2x stout, size 10-16.
Thread: Gray 6/0 or 8/0 nylon.
Hackle: Grizzle hen.
Body: Muskrat fur dubbing.”

Charles Brooks dressed a similar fly, the Grey Nymph, with a tail. He describes in the list of patterns he includes at the end of Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout (1976):

Tail: Badger hair.
Body: Neutral gray fur; muskrat or similar.
Hackle: Soft gray grizzly.
Thread: Black Nymo.”

The image in the color plates that precede the list depict a full-bodied, heavily-tail and –hackled Grey Nymph. Brooks notes that it is a “very simple but effective fly.” He might have added that it has likely been around for a long time, as evidence by other shaggy, modern patterns like Pat's Nymph.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Olive Nymphs, Nos. 1-3

This dressing represents Olive Nymph No. 1 in W. H. Lawrie’s list, and it follows Sylvester Nemes’ suggestion of substituting muskrat fur for blue cat fur in the body. It also assigns antron for the thorax.




Olive hackle fibers

Small gold wire

Yellow tying thread dubbed sparsely with muskrat

Light olive antron

Furnace hen’s hackle

In Two Centuries of the Soft-Hackled Fly (2005), Sylvester Nemes includes dressings from W. H. Lawrie’s The Book of the Rough Stream Nymph (1947). He notes that Lawrie includes “only fourteen patterns in the book (I had the same number of soft-hackled flies in my first book), nine of which represent nymphs and five of which represent hatching duns or, to use the modern name, emergers.” Nemes notes that he has “‘modernized’ the patterns whenever necessary,” substituting “some dubbings and hackles for acid-dyed furs and feathers.” Nemes's substitutions are in brackets below.

Lawrie dressed Olive Nymphs thus:

“(1) Olive Nymph. Hook No. 14.
Hackle: Furnace hackle.
Body: Yellow tying silk waxed with brown cobbler’s wax, and dubbed lightly with blue cat fur [muskrat], the whole ribbed with fine gold wire.
Whisks: Three strands of live hen feather fibres.
Thorax: Light olive. [This pattern is simply a variant of the wet Greenwell’s Glory.]

(2) Olive Nymph. Hook No. 14.
Hackle: Dark blue hen hackle dyed a deep olive shade.
Body: Dark hare-lug [hare’s ear] and muskrat fur spun on primrose tying silk, ribbed with fine gold wire.
Whisks: Three fibres of soft rust hen feather.
Thorax: Dark muskrat spun onto tying silk below hackle.

(3) Olive Nymph. Hook No. 14.
Hackle: Dark blue hen.
Body: Olive dyed peacock quill. [Or olive thread or floss.]
Whisks: Three strands of dark blue hen.
Thorax: Dark muskrat.”

Lawrie's dressings provide variations on dressings of Olive nymphs and soft hackles such as the Blue Dun.

Nemes's occasional modernization might result in similar effects, but the materials can be quite different. Lawrie listed the first dressing for his Olive Nymph in The Book of the Rough Stream Nymph (1947) and reprinted it in Scottish Trout Flies (1966):

“1. Hackle:  Furnace hen hackle, two turns.
Body:  Yellow tying silk waxed with cobblers wax, and ribbed with fine gold wire.
Thorax:  Blue cat’s fur dyed in picric acid and spun on to tying-silk immediate below the hackle.
Whisks:  Three short strands blue hen feather, undyed or dyed olive in picric acid.

2. Hackle:  Dark blue dun dyed a deep olive shade, two turns.
Body:  Dark hare-lug fur spun on primrose tying-silk and ribbed with find gold wire.
Thorax:  Dark blue cat’s fur spun on to tying-silk immediately below the hackle.

3. Hackle:  Dark blue hen—very soft—two turns.
Body:  Strip of quill from wing-feather of wood-pigeon dyed in picric acid.
Thorax:  Dark blue cat’s fur spun on to tying-silk below hackle.
Whisks:  Three strands fibre of the dark blue hen.

All the above are dressed on long-shank No. 14 square-bend hooks.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Smoky Mountain Blackbird; Crow Fly; or, Black Palmer

This dressing of the Smoky Mountain Blackbird is unweighted and uses the 2x dry fly hook in size 14 that other flies in this blog use. Also, following an almost identical dressing by Roger Lowe, the Crow Fly, it uses a starling primary for the palmer.




Starling primary barbules, tied the length of the hook shank

Peacock herl

Split starling primary

L. J. DeCuir includes the Smoky Mountain Blackbird in his Southeastern Flies (2001), noting the similarities between it and the better known Yallerhammer—it uses a peacock herl body and “utilizes the split wing feather of a bird.” DeCuir gives this dressing for the fly:

Hook: Mustad 9672, TMC 5263 or 3x or 4x Streamer Hook #4-10
Thread: Black
Weight: ‘Lead’ wire [or lead substitute]
Tail: Barbules from the wing feather of a blackbird
Palmered Rib: Split wing feather of a blackbird
Body: Peacock herl”

While the Smoky Mountain Blackbird most resembles DeCuir’s tailless dressing of the Yallerhammer, “it can also be fished like a Woolly Bugger,” even though, as DeCuir notes, it is “usually fished in the mountains of the Southeast like most heavily weighted nymphs.”

The “blackbird” of DeCuir’s Smoky Mountain Blackbird does not specify a species like the distinctive Yallerhammer, despite their similarities, and there are nearly thirty species of blackbird in the Americas. Roger Lowe gives an almost identical dressing in his Fly Pattern Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains (2001), which he calls Crow Fly. He notes that it is “tied similar to the Yellow Hammer but with a Crow feather; imitates the molting stonefly.”

“Hook: 9671 Mustad
Thread: Black
Body: Black yarn or peacock herl
Hackle: Biot quill from Crow or Starling”

Similar tailless dressings exist, most often listed as a Black Palmer. John Turton’s includes a Black Palmer Fly in his Angler’s Manual (1836) for fishing in the latter part of the season, from “July to September.” He dresses it “with dark orange silk; wing, black hen’s hackle feather; body, copper-coloured peacock’s feather; after rains, ribbed with silver twist.”

Roger Woolley includes a Black Palmer in a later edition of Modern Trout Flies (1950) that does not list a thread color, as is usually the case with the flies on Woolley’s list, but includes the materials for dressing Turton’s “after rains” Black Palmer Fly, with a rib of silver wire rather than silver twist. It could easily be dressed with the dark orange thread Turton gives.

The name Black Palmer covers a variety of dressings, the black referring either to the hackle, as in Turton’s dressing, or the body, like the Black Palmers of Alfred Ronalds’ and Charles Bowlker’s. Both Ronald’s and Bowlker’s dressings, in The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836) and The Art of Angling (1774) respectively, utilize a black ostrich body, silver twist, and either a black or red cock’s hackle palmer.

John Jackson’s Practical Fly Fisher (1853) includes a dressing for the black palmer that is much more variable (and includes a variation that is very similar to the Yallerhammer):

Body.—Dark Peacock’s, or Ostrich’s herl, ribbed with gold tinsel and green silk.
Black, brown, or dark red Cock’s hackle over all.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dun Spider

This spider is dressed essentially as a thread-bodied, soft hackle palmer, a method that results in a fundamentally more vulnerable fly than the ones W. C. Stewart preferred to fish. It uses the starling substitute that Stewart suggests. It would best be dressed on a shorter shank that the dry fly hook used to regularize the blog's dressing. suggests..It would be best tied on a shorter shanked hook than the blog standard.



Blue Dun

Starling undercovert

W. C. Stewart Practical Angler (1857) made famous the spider style of dressing soft hackles with three specific dressings, the Black Spider, the Red Spider, and the Dun Spider. He states that “killing spiders may be made of all the feathers we have mentioned [“starling, landrail, dotterel, mavis, grey plover, golden plover, partridge, and grouse”], since “their superiority consists in their much greater resemblance to the legs of an insect, and their extreme softness. So soft are they, that when a spider is made of one of them and placed in the water, the least motion will agitate and impart a singularly life-like appearance to it.”

The Dun Spider “should be made of the small soft dun or ash-coloured feather, taken from the outside of the wing of the dotterel. This bird is unfortunately very scarce ; but a small feather may be taken from the inside of the wing of the starling, which will make an excellent substitute.”

Stewart notes that the “only objection to spiders is, that the feathers are so soft that the trout's teeth break them off, and after catching a dozen or two of trout, little is left of them but the bare dressing, rendering it necessary for the angler to change them; and if the trout are taking readily, this has to be repeated two or three times a day.” The life-like effect and overall effectiveness of the dressings, however, outweighs this objection. His method of dressing the fly strengthens the hackle stem and binds the hackle fibers in buggy positions. 

In his Wet Flies (1995), Dave Hughes suggests dressing Stewart’s spiders by winding tying thread from the eye of the hook halfway down the shank, tying the base of the hackle in from the middle of the shank to the eye, and then winding the tying thread back to the halfway point on the shank. To dress the fly, Hughes directs the fly tier to “take three to five evenly spaced turns of the hackle back to the midpoint of the hook. Catch the hackle tip with three turns of thread,” and he recommends breaking the tip off rather than clipping it with scissors. To finish the fly, Hughes gives another step: “Work your thread forward through the hackle to the hook eye. Wobble the thread back and forth as you go forward, to avoid matting down any hackle. This step is critical; without it, the fragile hackle stem will break and unwind on the first fish you catch.” The fly is finished at the eye of the hook. 

This dressing follows Roger Woolley’s suggestion that Stewart’s spiders might be dressed as hackle palmers: “just a soft hackle taken half-way down the hook, palmerwise, no body as in the usual type of fly, half the hook left bare," but uses the end of the tying thread as a rib, somewhat in the manner of Hughes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Purple Gold Hackle; Purple Gold Palmer; or, Purple Palmer

This dressing uses a genetic furnace saddle hackle for the palmer and does not twist the hackle on the tying silk before palmering it forward, as James Chetham recommends.




Gold twist

Red furnace

Purple tying thread

In his Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), James Chetham reprints the list of flies that Charles Cotton appends to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler in 1676. Chetham names the fly and lists the Purple Gold Hackle as No. 4 on his list for June, a dressing “made with a Purple Body, Gold twist over that, all whip'd about with a Red Capons Feather." A fly dressed with a hackle “whip'd about” the body is, for Chetham, “a Palmer-fly” that “is made of a Capon, or Cock's Hackle, twirled on Silk, and warp'd about the Hook, and either with, or without any Wings, and sometimes a little dubbing under the Hackle.” Dressed without the rib, the fly is the Purple Hackle, No. 3 on Chetham's and Cotton's list for June.

John Kirkbride includes the directions for a similar Purple Palmer in his Northern Angler (1837) that resembles the essentials of Cotton an Chetham's dressing: "This palmer is made of purple floss-silk, tipt at the tail with gold, or not, and two fine black hackles fun round the head. It must be made very small."

This dressing substitutes purple angora goat for purple mohair and uses a sparse furnace Indian dry fly hackle for the palmer.

In his Angler’s Manual (1836), John Turton lists the Purple Gold Palmer for June: “made with purple silk: wing, a red cock’s hackle feather; body, purple mohair, ribbed with gold twist.” He recommends the fly because it  “takes large fish in rough streams and dark waters.”