Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dark Snipe and Purple; or, Dark Snipe

In keeping with established structure of the blog, the fly above is tied on a size 14 hook.


Purple Pearsall's Gossamer Silk

Purple Pearsall's Gossamer Silk

Snipe covert

John Waller Hills suggests that the Dark Snipe and Purple is the most useful imitation for the Iron Blue in his History of Fly Fishing for Trout (1921). He prefers the Dark Snipe and Purple for its simplicity, particularly by comparison to contemporary imitations proposed by G.E.M. Skues, despite their usefulness. Sylvester Nemes included it in his first book, The Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), and in its second edition (2006) as both a soft hackle and a tiny soft hackle:

body: Purple silk floss
hackle: Small covert hackle from snipe wing. These are the very short feathers on the leading edge of the wing.”

T. E. Pritt lists this dressing almost verbatim as No. 10, the Dark Snipe, in North-Country Flies (1886), noting that the fly is a “splendid killer on cold days in the early part of the season, and is a favourite on the Ribble. In some districts it is not dressed until June, but the angler will find it too good to be neglected as a spring fly.” Leslie Magee includes Pritt’s dressing on the color plates of Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994) which illustrate the soft hackles he prefers. The manuscript “List of Artificial Flies used by Sylvester Lister Snr” from 1898  that Magee reprints also includes a dressing for the Snipe and Purple or Dark Snipe, but it adds a magpie herl head and recommends slightly speckled snipe coverts. 

While authors like Hills give Pritt credit for the Dark Snipe, Magee points to a manuscript precedent earlier than Pritt or Lister, which was likely unknown to Hills. William Brumfitt, the professional fly tyer who lived all of his life in Otley, Yorkshire and whose illustrations Pritt copied directly for the color plates in Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885), listed two dressings for the Dark Snipe. In addition to the purple-bodied dressing Pritt listed, Brumfitt also favored an orange-bodied dressing, the aptly named Dark Snipe and Orange. While Pritt cites Brumfitt's fly tying prowess in the introduction Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885), he only chose to include the purple-bodied dressing.

Perhaps Pritt's choice acknowledges the historical persistence of a purple-bodied, dark-hackled dressings. A version of this configuration appears in Charles Cottons' 1676 additions to Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler. Cotton includes a dressing for an April pattern that he calls the Violet Flie. Its simplicity and coloration make it a likely, Restoration-era precursor for the Snipe and Purple: "From the sixth of this Month to the tenth, we have also a Flie  call'd the violet Flie, made of a dark violet stuff, with the wings of the grey feather of a Mallard."


  1. Neil
    I could see a nice rainbow nailing this gem--so impressed with your work at the bench. thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks much, Bill - this is a good one for tailwater trout when it's tied in a size 18 or smaller.

  2. I think it is interesting how the color purple is often overlooked when we select patterns we wan too fish with. Fish really are pretty keen on that color. Nice pattern, Neil.

  3. Love your blog. Fishing with flies for 30+ years, but never used soft hackles until recently. I decided to go "retro" last weekend- Tied a few purple and Starlings, fished them down and across in the riffles on my fiberglass rod and caught several large trout during a recent Caddis hatch- worked better than anything else in the flybox. I will be following now to pick up more info on these great flies!