Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dark Hare's Hackle



Olive Dun

Dark blue underfur from hare’s back, thicker toward the eye of the hook, on olive Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk

Dark dun cock’s hackle

In Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004) Sylvester Nemes includes a review of three books by John Waller Hills. The last of Hills’ books, River Keeper(1934), is a largely biographical account of William James Lunn, keeper of the River Test.

In his own account of Hills’ account of Lunn’s fly tying, Nemes suggests using “a very good grade of hen hackle from Whiting or Metz” in any dressing “where cock hackles are suggested,” noting that he has “taken the liberty of suggesting other replacement materials” in giving Lunn’s patterns. He dresses Lunn’s Dark Hare’s Hackle:

“Hackle: Dark blue cock hackle.
Body: Dark fur from hare’s back cut up and mixed. Spun on olive silk.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gray Hackle Peacock; Zulu; Orl Fly; and Peacock-flie




Narrow gold tinsel

Scarlet red hackle fibers

Peacock herl

Grizzly hen

Dave Hughes includes the Gray Hackle Peacock as a traditional pattern in Wet Flies (1995). Earlier precedents for the Gray Hackle Peacock likely include the Zulu, as Mary Orvis Marbury depicts it on Plate A of her Favorite Flies and their Histories (1892); the Orl Fly found in the writings of John Turton and the Bowlkers; and the Peacock-flie, mentioned by both Charles Cotton and James Chetham. All of these share three traits, red silk, peacock body, and a grizzly or speckled hackle; none make mention of the gold tip or scarlet tail fibers that Hughes ascribes to the dressing, although Marbury’s illustration does indicate a red wool tag for the Zulu. (Marbury's dressing clearly distinguishes from the Black Zulu, which is more commonly shortened as the Zulu.)

In his Angler’s Manual (1836), Turton includes the Orl Fly as No. 11, a hackle:

“For May and June; is made with red silk; wing, a dark grizzled cock hackle feather; body, copper-coloured peacock’s herl. A good fly”

In their respective editions of the Art of Angling (1758, 1774), Charles and his father Richard cite the Orl Fly for May and June, particularly in hot weather, and they give very similar dressings. Charles assigns the dressing thus:  “The wings of the Orl Fly are made with a dark grizzle cock’s hackle, the body of peacock’s harle, worked with dark red silk: The hook, No. 6.”

In the Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), James Chetham reprints the flies Cotton included in the second part of the Compleat Angler (1676). The Gray Hackle Peacock is a dressing for May: “There is also this Month a flie call’d the Peacock-flie, the body made with a whirl of a Peacocks feather, with a red head, and wings of a Mallards feather.”

Sylvester Nemes mentions the Gray Hackle Red in the second edition (2006) of The Soft Hackled Flies (1975), suggesting it as a precedent for his own Syl’s Midge: “I cannot find it [Syl’s Midge] in the angling literature of the north of England, so it must be an American invention that came down to present use through the Gray Hackle Peacock, which was tied with a peacock herl body and grizzle hackle, cock or hen. Donald DuBois’s book, The Fisherman’s Handbook of Trout Flies [1960], lists other similar hackled flies, such as the Gray Hackle Purple and Gray Hackle Red. The hackle remained the same, but the body changed according to the whim of the tier. Some patterns had orange and red tags and gold ribbing. They were all old, famous wet flies.” 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


This dressing assigns black thread for dressing the fly, since James Chetham prescribes black silk for securing the wings to the hook shank, and it is hackled rather than winged with starling. 




Raw New Zealand Romney - black sheep’s wool with some gray mixed in


The Hearth-fly heads the list of flies for August angling that James Chetham includes in the second edition (1700) of his Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681). It is a part of the list following his reprint of Charles Cotton’s flies. He describes it as a “Catalogue, of Flies, practiced by a very good Angler, and useful to be known by the young Anglers in clear, Stony Rivers.” Chetham explains that the fly is "Made of the Wooll of and Old Black Sheep with some Grey Hairs in it for the Body and Head, Wing's dub'd with Black Silk, wing's of the light Feather in a Shepstares Quill." Chetham's preference for "shepstare" over starling is evocative of a North Country dialect. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an entry from an 1848 zoology text that lists "shepstare" as a Yorkshire variant of starling.

In the 1758 edition of the Art of Angling, Richard Bowlker includes the Hearth Fly in a list of “other Flies taken notice of in some treatises of angling, which may possibly be of use in some rivers” in order “to satisfy the curiosity” of other anglers, but Bowlker asserts that he does not “think it worth while to make any of them artificially.” The later edition (1774) by Bowlker's son Charles make no mention at all of the Hearth Fly in the “CATALOGUE of FLIES seldom found useful to fish with.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gray Caddis Larva

This pattern has been dressed after the fashion of a soft hackle rather than in a larval form, Sens-style, and it uses silver wire rather than oval tinsel.



Dark brown

Fine oval tinsel or wire

Dark grayish muskrat fur dubbing

Dark brown fur dubbing

Dark partridge hackle fibers

In Nymphs (1973), Ernest Schwiebert prescribes many soft-hackled flies or flies based on traditional soft hackles to imitate caddis flies in general. He explains that the “Gray Caddis Larva is an extremely versatile pattern in all sizes, and both [the Gray and Yellow Caddis Larvae discussed alongside the Gray] are fine imitations of the Hydropsyche flies."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grouse and Green

This dressing follows one of John Kirkbride's dressings for the Grouse Hackle, assigning a particular silk and thread. 



Olive dun

Olive Pearsall's Gossamer Silk

Grouse back

Because of Ernest Schwiebert’s reference to the Grouse and Green as a “traditional Yorkshire pattern” in Nymphs (1973), the pattern might presumably figure into multiple historical texts on North Country fly dressing. Schwiebert makes frequent reference to North Country and Scottish soft-hackled flies in the development of modern techniques for dressing nymphal patterns. He attributes the success of those patterns to the brawling waters of Scotland and the North Country where anglers dressed and fished them. Such waters are home to many species of caddis flies, which, Schwiebert argues, provides an imitative corollary that accounts for the success of the flies. Of the three times he references the Grouse and Green, he attributes it to W. C. Stewart, but Stewart makes no reference to a soft-hackled or spider Grouse and Green in his Practical Angler (1857). Later posthumous editions of Stewart’s book include color plates that depict a Grouse and Green which is a much more heavily-dressed wet fly than the characteristically “dour patterns” which Schwiebert suggests must have “filled his [Stewart's] fly books.”

Schwiebert gives a dressing for the Medium Dark-Olive Sedge based on the Grouse and Green which he has “modified” in order “to imitate . . . olive-bodied Macronema flies," which he discusses in his chapter on Trichoptera: “W. C. Stewart used an [this] ancient border pattern to imitate similar caddis flies on his beloved Whiteadder, Teviot, and Tweed.”

Schwiebert’s misattribution is easy—the Grouse and Green does not seem to be mentioned anywhere - Roger Woolley only pairs grouse with claret, yellow, and orange silk in his Modern Trout Flies (1950) -though the hackle and body combination does in a few very specific instances appear under dressings for the Grouse Hackle. Typically, soft-hackled patterns using grouse hackles also use an orange body, as in the Grouse Hackle that William Blacker includes in his Art of Angling (1843). Blacker also includes dressings for a Partridge or Grouse Hackle utilizing different furs for bodies. One variation calls for a “Body—hare’s ear fur mixed with olive mohair” to create a green effect. It also includes a starling wing.

In the Northern Angler (1837), John Kirkbride also includes various dressings for the Grouse Hackle, one of which is illustrated above as the Grouse and Green: “It is made as a hackle, with a small bright mottled feather from the back of a cock grouse, with a dusky yellow or olive body.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Orange Flie; or Orange Brown

This dressing substitutes dark orange hare's poll for the orange wool Charles Cotton lists and a crow primary tied hacklewise for the nebulous "wing of a black feather."



Burnt orange rabbit fur

Crow from the neck or head

In Part 2 of Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1676), Charles Cotton includes the dressing for the Orange Flie at the head of the list for July: “1. We have then the Orange Flie, the dubbing of Orange Wool, and the wing of a black feather.” Following suit in his reprint of Cotton’s flies, James Chetham includes the Orange-fly in his list of dressings for July in the Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681), although he inserts another fly ahead of it.

In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee reprints a pattern that is similar, including the Oringe Black in John Swarbrick’s “List of Wharfedale Flies” (1807): “The Flie is very Small a Hackle The feather is taken From a Starling Neck Harld at the Head with Marpie feather orange Silk.” This dressing is almost an exact match for the Orange Black No. 56 that John Turton includes in his  Angler’s Manual (1836). It is a silk-bodied dressing for July that Turton includes alongside the Wasp Fly, No. 57, which is dressed in darker orange-brown tones.

Alfred Ronalds includes the Orange Fly, No. 39, in his Fly Fisher’s Entomology (1836) as a dressing for a small orange scorpion wasp. He explains that it “is one of the best flies that can be used both for Trout and Grayling. There are a great many varieties, some larger, some smaller than the representation [on the color plate]. It may be used all day. Although discovered alive with difficulty, it is found abundant in the stomachs of the fish. It is furnished with an apparatus call the sting, used for the purpose of piercing the skin of caterpillars, in which it deposits its eggs, the grub from which grows in, and ultimately kills, the insect in which it was hatched.

BODY. Orange floss silk tied on with black silk thread.
WINGS. Dark part of the starling’s wing, or feather of a hen blackbird.
LEGS. A very dark furnace hackle.”

Michael Theakston, likewise, includes an Orange Brown, No. 83 in his List of Natural Flies (1843). In Theakston’s entomological parlance, a “brown” is a stone fly.

This dressing uses silk buttonhole twist by Talon, orange 455, size D, and substitutes reddish brown cock hackle for landrail.

Theakston’s dressing calls for the Orange Brown to be “Hackled or winged with a landrail’s feather; bright orange silk, for body; with a few fibers of mohair or squirrel’s fur, at the breast.”

In addition to representing a small summer wasp and a late season stonefly, the dressing also stands in for an the ant. Oddly enough, T. E. Pritt, in North-Country Flies (1886), traces the lineage of his Large Ant, No. 58, to the Orange Stinger that John Jackson dresses as No. 51 in his Practical Angler (1854). Jackson’s comment on the fly, however, and the dressing in particular align it more with Ronalds’ dressing for the small wasp than an ant: “This, though apparently a scarce insect, is greedily taken by both Trout and Grayling, from the middle of August to the end of September.” The dressing itself matches Ronalds’ almost verbatim. The “stinger” in the name, too, recalls the egg-laying stinger Ronalds describes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Old Blue Dun

James Leisenring notes that an optional starling wing can be added to this dressing, though the Old Blue Dun he pictures in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941) is dressed as above, without it. 



Two or three rusty-dun hackle fibers

One strand of silk buttonhole twist – Coats and Clark’s 72-A primrose, size D; or full twist, tightly twisted

Muskrat dubbed on primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, wrapped so that some silk shows through the dubbing at the tail end

Blue-dun hen

James Leisenring included the Old Blue Dun in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). He dressed it:

“HOOK  12, 13, 14.
SILK  Primrose yellow.
HACKLE  Blue-dun hen hackle of good quality.
TAIL  Two or three glassy fibers from a rusty-blue-dun cock’s hackle.
RIB  One strand of yellow buttonhole twist
BODY  Mustrat underfur spun on primrose-yellow silk, a little of the silk showing through dubbing at the tail.
WINGS  Starling optional.”

Leisenring’s name for the fly does not appear in older angling literature, but the word “old” suggests it should. Since many patterns utilize combinations of dun colored furs on yellow silk bodies coupled with hackles in varying shades of dun and, quite often, with smoky dun-colored wings, the most distinguishing feature of Leisenring’s dressing is the addition of a primrose rib.

In the third edition of the Modern Fly Dressing (1950), Roger Woolley lists various dressings of the Blue Dun as the Early Olive Dun. Blue Dun is a relatively common name, and shows up alongside other dressings that utilize blue fur bodies, but they usually omit the rib. Like Leisenring's Old Blue Dun, Woolley's dressings, particularly those under the heading of "Hackled Wet Patterns for Midland and Welsh Waters," often include bodies of various blue furs and a rib that is yellow (on in a few cases, of silver wire).

William Blacker gives an almost identical dressing in his Art of Angling (1843), although it neither stipulates the color of the tying thread nor makes the starling wing optional. He calls it the Whirling Dun, No. 29, and he argues it is best suited for June and July fishing. Richard Bowlker, too, includes a Little Pale Blue in his Art of Angling (1758) that neglects tail fibers and uses “the lightest blue feathers of a sea-swallow” for the wing.

Perhaps the oldest direct precedent for Leisenring’s Old Blue Dun is the “whirling Dun” that Charles Cotton listed for April in his additions to the Compleat Angler (1676). He notes that “About the twelfth of this Month comes in the Flie call’d the whirling Dun, which is taken every day about the mid time of the day all this Month through, and by fits from thence to the end of June, and is commonly made of the down of a Fox Cub, which is of an Ash colour at the roots, next to the skin, and ribb’d about with yellow silk, the wings of the pale grey feather of a Mallard.”

The lineage of Leisenring's Old Blue Dun has much in common with the lineage of the prevalent Waterhen Bloa, though most of the latter's dressings are not ribbed. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rough-Bodied Poult

This dressing substitutes a quail undercovert for the particular hackle Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee suggest.



Primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk

Tying silk dubbed lightly with buff opossum

Dun bobwhite quail undercovert

In Brook and River Trouting (1916), Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee give the dressing for the Rough-Bodied Poult as No 20, to imitate Ephemeridæ hatching from July through September. The name "poult" derives originally from the word "pullet," but the Oxford English Dictionary notes that, while it often referred to young, domesticated fowl and game birds, it was most often used in reference to the grouse. As is often the case with traditional soft-hackles, the name of the Rough-Bodied Poult indicates the most prominent part of the fly, the grouse undercovert hackle.

Edmonds and Lee dress the fly with their usual specificity:

“WINGS.—Hackled with a light blue feather from the under coverts of a young Grouse wing, taken before the bird is strong on the wing. (The lighter side of the feather towards the head of the fly.) This feather darkens very rapidly on the live bird from August onwards.
BODY.—Straw coloured silk, No. 2, dubbed sparingly with buff fur from the flank of an Opossum.
HEAD.—Straw-coloured silk.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dotterel, in orange and yellow

This dressing of the orange Dotterel uses silk buttonhole twist - Talon 455 orange, size D, lightly twisted to suggest a natural rib.

This dressing of the orange Dotterel uses silk buttonhole twist - Coats & Clark's lemon 223, size D, lightly twisted to suggest a natural rib.



Orange or yellow to match the body

Orange or Yellow

Starling undercoverts, dun with light tan tips

The Dotterel is a standard North Country or Scottish spider. In his Northern Angler (1837), Scottish angler John Kirkbride calls it the “most destructive fly in this part of the country, killing remarkably well during the whole season.” Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee regard it as most effective from May to September in Brook and River Trouting (1916). Likewise, in his North-Country Flies (1886), T. E. Pritt explains that “the dotterel is a good standard fly all through the season from the end of April, more especially on rather cold days.” While he concedes that it “is undoubtedly a splendid killer,” Pritt speculates “whether its reputation on all the Yorkshire, and other north country rivers, is not in excess of its merits.” 

Edmonds and Lee put forward the standard dressing for the Dotterel as No. 17 in their book, elaborating slightly on Pritt’s Dotterel, No. 35:

“WINGS.—Hackled with a light-tipped fawnish feather from the marginal coverts or lesser coverts of a Dotterel’s wing.
BODY.—Orange silk, No. 6, or primrose yellow silk, No. 3.
HEAD.—Orange silk, or primrose yellow silk.”

Pritt suggests “Straw-coloured silk” for the body, but he notes that “some anglers prefer Orange silk.” E. M. Tod’s preference is evident in his name for the fly, the Dotterel and Orange, but his dressing is identical. Michael Theakston offers a Dotterel Dun as the 79th fly in his List of Natural Flies (1843), dressing it with the a body  of “copper-colored silk, slightly tinged with water-rat’s fur; winged with a dotterel’s feather; winged with slips and a few fibers of mohair or hare’s ear, wrought in at the breast.” Only Kirkbride’s dressing varies wildly from the simple spider. His fly has a hare’s ear body, dyed yellow, gradually lightened as the season advances with addition of yellow mohair. In discolored water, Kirkbride’s Dotterel has a three-part body: hare’s ear dyed yellow in the front, a band of yellow thread in the middle, and a sparsely dubbed muskrat section near the bend of the hook.

In light of its reputation, what might be most significant about the Dotterel soft hackle is that it can no longer be dressed authentically. Its namesake hackle comes from a long-protected species. Leslie Magee discusses the challenge of dressing the Dotterel without dotterel in Fly Fishing: the North-Country Tradition (1996): “I have carefully examined several museum skins of Dotterel and I must say that I believe that it would be extremely difficult to differentiate between the feathers formerly used for the ‘Dotteril Fly’ and feathers selected from some other birds. I have also examined Dotterel feathers in old fly wallets and it would seem that because of the rarity of the bird, that a wide range of its feathers were made use of.” Pritt suggests curlew.

In The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941), James Leisenring does not even include dotterel hackled under a separate heading as he does for other land bird hackles like the coot, partridge, jackdaw, and snipe. The dotterel is a footnote to the starling, which provides an a perfect substitute that is “found among the undercoverts of the starling wing. The feathers are dun colored with buff or yellow tips, and can be distinguished from the genuine dotterel only by a difference in stiffness.” Edmonds and Lee make a similar recommendation, as does W. C. Stewart in The Practical Angler (1857).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gray Hackle

This dressing follows James Leisenring’s in that it uses a true furnace hackle (which had less to do with the predominate color than the stem and tips of the hackle), characterized by “a very dark, black, or blue dun list next to the stem and on the tips of the fibers.”



Light yellow

Narrow gold tinsel

Bronze-colored peacock herl

Yellow or white creamy furnace

James Leisenring listed the Gray Hackle second on his list of favorite patterns in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). He noted that the hackle, particularly if it was a poultry hackle, should be tied according to the water where it would be fished: the slower the water, the softer the hackle and vice versa. 

In discussing the history of the Red Hackle and the other hackle flies she illustrates on Plate A of her Favorite Flies and their Histories (1892), Mary Orvis Marbury notes that, unlike the Red Hackle, the “White Hackle, Yellow Hackle, Black Hackle, and a number of others are named simply after their color.” At the close of her discussion on the history of hackles, she cites a contemporary Colorado angler who recommends the Gray Hackle ahead of the Brown hackle, noting that the Gray Hackle “was to the trout what bread was to civilized man.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


This dressing substitutes an American woodcock covert for English woodcock undercovert T. E. Pritt lists, as well as using embroidery thread in place of silk. Also, the head is finished using the tan  thread used to dress the Greentail.



Embroidery thread – DMC 987 dark forest green


T. E. Pritt lists his Greensleeves, No. 48, as an alternative to the Greentail or Grannom in Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885) and its subsequent edition, North-Country Flies (1886). In the former, he notes that the dressing “differs little from the Greentail, and is probably a fanciful edition of that fly, useful only on dull, sultry days, and occasionally in the evening. Not generally dressed, but will now and then kill fairly.” He dresses it as follows:

“WINGS.-Hackled with a feather from the inside of a Woodcock’s wing of from a hen Pheasant’s neck.
BODY.-Bright green silk.

Pritt refers to the Greensleeves as a “fanciful edition” of the Greentail. In What the Trout Said (1982), Datus Proper defined what fanciful means in relation to British dressings: “The term is British, and Americans are often unaware that fancy does not mean gaudy. There is room for confusion, since some fancy flies also happen to be gaudy. Many others are sober creations that happen to be products of an angler’s fancy. John Waller Hills says that a fancy fly may imitate insect life generally but cannot be ‘connected with any particular species or genus or group.’ By way of example, he gives Stewart’s famous Black, Red, and Dun Spiders, which are small, drab, wet flies for upstream fishing. Hills then distinguishes fancy flies from ‘general’ flies, which ‘imitate a genus or group, but not an individual.’ The difference is a fine one.”

In the later edition of Pritt’s text, North-Country Flies (1886), Pritt adds more specific information on the lineage for the Greensleeves, noting that it is “Another form of Ronalds’ ‘Gold-eyed gauze wing,'" which Alfred Ronalds includes in the Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836) as No. 34, a fly dressed to match a July hatch. The Gold-eyed gauze wing, he explains, “is rather a scarce insect upon some waters, but where it is found affords great sport on windy days.” Ronalds dresses the fly thus:

“BODY. Very pale yellowish green floss silk, tied on with silk thread of the same colour.
WINGS AND LEGS. The palest blue dun hackle which can be procured.”

The name Greensleeves likely derives from an old English folk ballad with North Country associations. The ballad “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves,” was registered by Richard Jones in the autumn of 1580. What the connection between the fly and a folk ballad might connote is any angler’s guess.

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 Overfield 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 Overfield 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.”