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”

1 comment:

  1. Neil
    I am a big fan of soft hackles and they will land trout when everything else fails. Impressed with the pattern--thanks for sharing