Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Greenwell's Glory

This dressing would have been an earlier season dressing, given the light olive body and furnace hen hackle. (For this pattern, "furnace" means a hackle with a dark list and cinnamon to dark red tips.)


Primrose yellow

Small gold wire

Light olive or primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, waxed

Dark rabbit fur

Furnace hen hackle

In Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream (1910), G. E. M. Skues prescribes the standard dressing, and emphasizes its adaptability. As the season progresses, the tying silk should be less waxed so that the body is more yellow than olive; the dark furnace hen hackle having a “black centre, with cinnamon points” of the spring should be replaced by a medium honey dun throughout the summer. In Skues' dressing, the wings also get lighter as the season progresses.
"Wings: Hen blackbird, dark starling, medium starling, or light starling (lighter as season advances).
Body: Primrose or yellow tying silk, more or less waxed (lighter as season advances), ribbed with fine gold wire.
Legs: Dark furnace hackle; black centre, with cinnamon points, to medium honey dun (lighter as season advances).
Hook: Nos. 1, 0, or 00."
While the Greenwell's Glory is traditionally tied as a winged wet fly, I have followed Sylvester Nemes’s suggestion for tying the Greenwell’s Glory in Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2003).  Nemes suggests substituting a rabbit fur thorax for wings. The result is a tidy soft-hackled fly. Many anglers from the latter part of the nineteenth century onward recommend the fly.

In the 1976 pre-season roundup issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, T. Donald Overfield recalls the origins of the Greenwell's Glory which, he suggests, "must be one of the most famous flies in the history of fly fishing." It was originally tied as a wet fly by James Wright, "a superb flytier who lived on the banks of the Tweed in Sprouston" for Canon William Greenwell, "an ardent angler who frequented the Tweed in Scotland" and whose success with the dressing became the namesake of the fly. Overfield explains that the "pattern was devised on fine day in the month of May in the year of 1854. Canon Greenwell had fished all day with little luck, retiring despondent to Wright's cottage, fishless, but with a sample of the natural that the trout were taking so avidly. History does not record what the insect was, but Wright reproduced it that evening in fur and feather. The next day the worthy Canon returned from the river with a full basket of fine trout, all taken on the yet-nameless fly. Excitement prevailed and a party convened to christen the fly. The local school-master suggested 'Greenwell's Glory,' and so it became."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snipe Bloa

T. E. Pritt's first Snipe Bloa pattern, No. 29, calls for a snipe hackle taken from "inside of a Jack Snipe's wing," and his hand-colored plates depict it as a slightly darker, denser hackle, best represented with a dorsal marginal covert from nearer the body. 

T. E. Pritt's second Snipe Bloa pattern, No. 30, takes a hackle "from under the Snipe's wing," one of the longer, glassy ventral marginal coverts.



Silk buttonhole twist Talon 810, size D (No. 29) or primrose Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk dressed with a thin dubbing of mole (No. 30)

Snipe undercovert

The Snipe Bloa has long been a popular pattern of North Country and Scottish anglers. In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee notes that the Snipe Bloa, familiar through T. E. Pritt, is alternately the Snipe and Yellow or the Snipe Dun in other authors. For instance, E. M. Tod cites Pritt’s dressing for the Snipe Bloa or Blae in his Wet-Fly Fishing, Treated Methodically (1903). I do not attempt to reproduce all of them here, but rather provide Pritt’s as a prototypical version of the pattern. Essentially, the bodies are a grayish blue fur dubbed thinly on a yellow silk so that the color of the silk shows through or just the silk itself; the hackle, a snipe undercovert.

 T. E. Pritt includes two versions of the Snipe Bloa in North Country Trout Flies (1886): Snipe Bloa (No. 29) is similar to the Light Snipe and Yellow James Leisenring includes in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). The above patterns follows Pritt’s Snipe Bloa Nos. 29 and 30:

Snipe Bloa (No. 29):
“Wings.-Hackled with the feather from the Inside of a Jack Snipe’s Wing.
Body.-Straw-coloured silk.”

Snipe Bloa (No.30):
“Wings.-Hackled with a feather from under the Snipe’s wing.
Body.-Yellow silk, with a spare dubbing of Mole’s fur, but not sufficient to hide the yellow body.”

Pritt explains that Nos. 29 and 30 a “two dressings of the same fly, and practically identical. It is a splendid killer, and many anglers fish it more or less all the year round. It is Theakston’s Bloa brown, and is probably to be identified with the Light Bloa of Jackson. It is fished universally in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and it will account for its share of fish at any time, and particularly on cold, wild days, all through the season.”

In his List of Natural Flies (1853), Michael Theakston describes this imitation of the 32nd fly he lists, the Blo Brown: “Snipe blo feather from   under the wing; yellow or orange silk, with a few fibers of ambry-brown mohair at the breast.” In his posthumous work, The Practical Fly-Fisher (1854), John Jackson described tying his Light Bloa (No. 49) with

Wings.—Inside of Snipe’s wing feather.
Body.—Light drab silk
Legs and Tail.—Grizzled Hackle.”

Before Theakston and Jackson, John Turton gave a dressing for a Snipe Bloa in his Angler’s Manual; or, Fly-Fisher’s Oracle (1836). He delineates it as a hackle, No. 30 the Snipe Dun: “made with yellow silk: wing, a full snipe’s underside wing feather; body blue, rabbit’s down, twisted on the silk. An excellent greyling fly.”

An older precedent is the Snipe Blo tied by John Swarbrick. In Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), Leslie Magee reprints a pattern that is similar, including a slight bit of muskrat dubbing, to the later flies from the rare “List of Wharfedale Flies by John Swarbrick” published in 1807:

“No 7 The Snipe Blo
"Take a Feather From under the Snipe Wing it is a small feather Not to put the Wite part of the Feather into the Wings Yallow silk and a little water Rat Dawn (Down) in the Bodey.”

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Breadcrust

The Breadcrust is not properly a soft-hackled fly: anglers have always considered it a nymph and have tied it to represent a cased caddis larva. The fly does not adhere strictly to definition of a soft hackle I have assumed for the blog, since the quill body rather than the soft hackle is the focal point of the fly. In fact, the hackle here is more of a wet-fly collar, explicitly so in Ed Rolka and Pat Dorsey’s rendition. Nevertheless, the Breadcrust shares enough the soft-hackled style’s attributes to qualify it for inclusion in the blog. The hackle is soft, after all, and the body materials come from local game birds.

This dressing does not use the red-phase ruffed-grouse quill that Dorsey and Rolka recommend. As a matter of continuity, the hook used in this fly is the same size 14 dry fly hook used in other patterns.


#12-18 Tiemco 5262

Black 6/0 or 8/0 Uni-Thread

Red-phase ruffed-grouse quill

Black yarn

Grizzly hen”

In Tying and Fishing Tailwater Flies (2010), Pat Dorsey credits a Pennsylvania fly tier, Ed Rolka, as being the originator of the Breadcrust. After moving to Colorado, Rolka tied the Breadcrust for many of the major fly shops in Denver. Mr. Rolka passed away on December 11, 2013 at the age of 83. 

The crucial ingredient in his dressing is a quill from tail feather of a red-phased ruffed grouse, an Eastern gamebird readily available from the mountain country of Pennsylvania. Although Mr. Dorsey prefers to fish the Breadcrust with a beadhead, he gives Rolka's original dressing. The Tiemco 5262 is easy to replace if you prefer a different brand. The hook is a standard nymph hook: a down eye, 2X long, 2X heavy hook with a perfect bend. Serious anglers should look into Mr. Dorsey’s text. For the Breadcrust, he illustrates in painstaking, full-color detail the tedious process of preparing the quill to be wrapped around the hook.

Although J0hn Merwin does not suggest a particular quill for his version of the Breadcrust, a turkey biot strikes a nice balance between the distinctive rib effect of a trimmed ruffed-grouse quill and the smooth quills that Mr. Merwin recommends.



Burnt orange

Orange Pearsall’s Marabou Floss, waxed with light cobbler’s wax

Mahogany turkey biots

Grizzly hen

In 2004, I contacted long-time angling author John Merwin (1946-2013) for information about the Breadcrust because I had never found a version that seemed definitive. In his generous correspondence, he provided this dressing: “Body is orange floss (that darkens when wet). Rib is any brown or dark tan quill, closely wound so only a little orange shows through. I think this was originally stripped quill from the center stem of a ruffed grouse tail feather. Nick the quill with a razor blade, then strip off the outer surface or quill layer only. It’s not the center stem in its entirety; just the surface (enamel-like) layer. Some have said to leave some side fibers attached and trim them short before winding for a stubble effect, but that’s a very old-time suggestion that I haven’t seen in years. Hackle is grizzly, wound sparse and conventional length, meaning fibers that are about 1/3 to = the length of the body, NOT full body length or longer as some soft-hackles are tied. Be sure to use softer, wet fly hackle; e.g., from a grizzly hen neck. The Breadcrusts I most often use are small, meaning 16s to 20s and tied on standard-shank-length wet fly hooks. Sometimes weighted with wire wrapped under the floss.”

I inquired further about the lineage of the dressing, and Mr. Merwin kindly accommodated my request: “I looked briefly among my books and couldn’t find the reference I needed for that fly...if you get a chance, look for a book by a guy named Smedley on histories of some fly patterns---long out of print, but inter-library loan locally to you, perhaps....anyway, I think the Breadcrust is northeastern (Pennsylvania, maybe) in origin, likely around 1935-1950. It is not ancient like the European soft-hackles (partridge and orange, etc) I do know I’ve seen many ‘wrong’ versions published by modern writers who don’t know better. Anyway, it’s an excellent fly. You’ll do well with it.”

I originally consulted Mr. Merwin's because of the Breadcrust pattern that Poul Jorgenson listed in his "Anatomy of an Artifical," chapter 4 in the book Masters on the Nymph (1974). Mr. Jorgenson makes no mention of the original, definitive grouse quill, even though I had heard accounts of this material used in the fly dressing. Though I do not include it here, it is a beautiful wet fly dressed thus:

“Hook: Mustad 3906 or 9671
Thread: Black
Ribbing: Stripped quill, brown
Body: Orange wool
Hackle: Grizzly
Head: Black tying thread”