Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Iron Blue - Nymph, Flymph (and Little Dark Watchet)

This dressing is on a a size 14 hook, which is larger than Hidy recommends. I use a size 14, however, to maintain the consistency of flies pictured in the blog. I also use red thread in addition to the red Pearsall's Gossamer Silk of the body.




Dark mole fur spun on red Pearsall’s Gossamer silk with two or three turns exposed at the tail

Two turns of starling neck hackle

Vernon S. “Pete” Hidy included this dressing for the Iron Blue Dun as a mayfly imitation, a flymph, in a chapter of The Masters on the Nymph (1979) “The Soft Hackle Nymphs—The Flymphs.” His dressing calls for hooks in "Sizes 16 and 18, mole fur on crimson silk with two turns of silk showing before body is tied; no ribbing; two turns of starling neck hackle.”

Hidy’s dressing is likely derived from the Iron Blue Nymph recommended by his friend and angling companion, James Leisenring. It simplifies Leisenring’s slightly; Leisenring’s soft-hackled fly is pictured below:

Like Hidy's substitution of starling for jackdaw, I substitute a hackle from the neck of a crow.

In The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph (1941), Leisenring gives the dressing that I have largely followed here. He calls it the Iron Blue Nymph:

“HOOK  14,15.
SILK  Crimson or claret.
HACKLE  Two turns of cock Jackdaw throat.
TAIL  Two or three soft white fibers tied very short.
BODY  Dark mole fur spun on crimson or claret tying silk with two or three turns of the silk exposed at the tail.”

Leisenring, in turn, borrowed his dressing from G. E. M. Skues almost verbatim. In Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream (1910), Skues gives a dressing that he revised in later publications (and that Leisenring includes as the Iron Blue Wingless). The Iron Blue of Minor Tactics, which Leisenring also includes in The Art of Tying, is dressed with:

Wings:  Tomtit’s tail.
Body: Mole’s fur on claret tying silk.
Legs: Medium blue hen with red points.
Hook: No. 0 or 00.”

Skues glosses this dressing with a note: “But see ‘The Way of the Trout With a Fly,’ p. 108, for a much better hackled pattern.” In the The Way of the Trout with the Fly (1921), Skues expresses some regret about this dressing of the Iron Blue: “If I had postponed the publication of ‘Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream’ for a year or two there is one dressing, that of the iron blue dun, given as a winged fly on p. 28 of that work and so illustrated as the frontispiece, for which I could have substituted a far better dressing of the nymph type.” The primary change he recommends to convert the fly to the “nymph type” is in the hackling:

Hook.—No. 00 round bend.
Body.—Mole’s fur on crimson tying silk, well waxed, the silk exposed for two or three turns at the tail end.
Whisks.—Two or three strands of soft, mobile, white hackle, quite short.
Legs.—The very short, nearly black, hackle from the throat of a cock jackdaw, not exceeding two turns.”

In the Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout (1939), Skues’s only revision is to qualify how the body should be tied: “Body.—Mole’s fur spun thinly on the tying silk exposing two turns of silk at tail, tapering to thickest at shoulder.”

Historically, dressings of the Iron Blue Dun have figured prominently in most anglers’ attempts at seasonal imitation. In A History of Fly Fishing for Trout (1921), John Waller Hills notes that the "best dressing to-day for a sunk fly is water hen either for the winged or still better for the hackled fly, with a body of silk, either all purple or purple and orange. Or it may be composed of a dark snipe hackle with a purple silk body. Four variations, all good, are given in Pritt." He also mentions G. E. M. Skues's pattern as useful, but suggests it is overly complicated. Hills traces dressings of the Iron Blue as far back as the Restoration author and angler James Chetham, who published his Anglers Vade Mecum in 1681. As Hills reports, Chetham called the fly a Little Blue Dun and dressed it "of the Down of a Mouse for body and head, dubt with sad Ash-coloured Silk, wings of the sad coloured feather of a Shepstare quill." He cites Richard Bowlker next in the development of the Iron Blue, as well as nineteenth century dry fly anglers. 

A few prominent imitations come from T. E. Pritt and the Bolkers, all of whom Hill mentions, as well as from John Jackson and John Turton.

In North-Country Flies (1886), Pritt notes that the Iron Blue is “a famous fly, and is known on most English rivers, and by a great variety of names—the iron blue dun, iron blue drake, little iron blue, little water-hen, little dark dun &c.” He describes the fly as “one of the daintiest morsels with which you can tempt a trout, and one of the most difficult to imitate satisfactorily,” which is presumably why Pritt lists four different dressings, Nos. 18 – 21, for imitating the “Little Dark Watchet or Iron Blue Dun.” No. 18 follows. It is the same dressing for the Little Dark Watchet that Leslie Magee includes among his favorite flies in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994). 
Sylvester Nemes recommends a Little Dark Watchet dressed on a size 20 hook that he based on Pritt's dressing in his own 2006 additions to his original Soft-Hackled Fly (1975). 

“Wings.—Hackled with a feather from a Jackdaw’s neck, or outside a Coot’s wing.
Body.—Orange and purple silk twisted, dubbed with down from a Water-rat.

This dressing uses twisted purple and hot orange Pearsall's Gossamer Silk as a thread base onto which muskrat is dubbed.

Pritt notes that John Jackson also includes a dressing for the Little Dark Watchet in The Practical Angler (1854) that other authors misattributed. Pritt points to Jackson’s winged No. 14 Pigeon Blue Bloa, which is dressed thus:

Wings.—Feather of a Blue Pigeon’s, or Waterhen’s neck.
Body.—Brimstone flame coloured silk.
Legs.—Yellowish dun hackle.
Tail.—Two strands of the same 

This fly has a golden coloured head, best made with a strand from the tail of a Cock Pheasant. When you use the Waterhen’s feathers, take the tips of two, and do not divide the wings.”

John Turton included a dressing in The Angler’s Manual, or Fly-Fisher's Oracle (1836), No. 35 the Iron Blue Fly, a hackle he recommended fishing “in May: made with yellow silk: with, outside or butt end of merlin hawk’s wing; body, dark water-rat dubbing, ribbed with yellow silk.”

The Bowlkers also included dressings in their editions of The Art of Angling. Charles Bowlker (1780) dressed an imitation of the “Little Iron Blue Fly” with “wings made of a cormorant’s feather that grows under the wing, or the feather of a dark blue hen that grows on the body under the wings, the body or water-rats fur, ribbed with yellow silk, with a sutty blue hackle of a cock wrapt over the body: The hook, No. 8, or 9.” In an earlier edition, his father Richard Bowlker (1747) provided a similar imitation: “The wing of this fly is made of a cormorant’s feather that lies under the wing, in the same form as those of a goose: the body is made with the furr of a wount or mole, or rather a water-rat’s furr, if you can have it, ribbed with yellow silk, and a grizzle hackle wrapped twice or thrice round. His wings stand upright on his back, with a little forked tail.”


  1. Hi,
    Like your blog. do you know if the Blue Pigeon mentioned for the wing would be similar to the Rock Dove we have in the US? I think the Rock Dove is an introduced species from over the pond, I was wondering if maybe they are the same bird?

  2. Thanks for checking out the blog, Smitty. My guess would be that the rock dove would be an ideal substitution for the blue pigeon that Jackson assigns as winging. Jackson was writing and angling during a period of increased interest racing or homing pigeons in the North Country. (The Royal Pigeon Racing Association first met 40 years after Jackson's publication.) That might be too speculative, but the waterhen he suggests as a substitution is probably easier to supply.

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