Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Brown

This dressing of Roger Woolley's Winter Brown substitutes brown and black barring of a red grouse's covert for the more traditional tan-and-black undercovert of an English woodcock.



A mixture of rust sculpin wool with a natural brown wool – in this instance, raw wool from the Targhee breed

Red grouse covert

Like various versions of the Snipe Bloa, different anglers’ dressings for the Winter Brown are variations on a general pattern, a rich brownish body, a brown and black barred hackle (usually an English woodcock’s undercovert), and a head of some green, iridescent herl. 

In his Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004), Sylvester Nemes relates patterns from Roger Woolley’s Modern Trout Fly Dressing (1950) that “are not too common and might be worth a swing or two on your favorite water.” The first is Woolley’s Winter Brown:

“Body: Orange tying silk dubbed with ruddy brown wool, the orange silk to show for three turns at tail.
Hackle: Dark brown mottled feather from under woodcock wing.
Head: Bronze peacock herl.”

Woolley's dressing follows the dressing for the Winter Brown that Harfield Edmonds and Nornan Lee give in Brook and River Trouting (1916), where it is listed as a fly for "March to middle of April." Their dressing is worth listing here if for no other reason than the specificity they require  for a dressing that accurately represents early Perlidae (or stonefly) hatches:

WINGS.—Hackled with a greyish feather, barred, from the under coverts of a Woodcock's wing. (The lighter side of the feather towards the head of the fly).
BODY.—Orange silk, No. 6a, dubbed with ruddy brown wool, the three turns next the tail showing distinct orange.
HEAD.—Bronze Peacock herl.”

Leslie Magee, in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994) prints the “List of Artificial Flies used by Sylvester Lister Snr” from 1898, which was “compiled upon an experience of 50 years as a fly-fisher and over 70 years residence on the banks of the river Wharfe.” Lister’s dressing for the Winter Brown calls for the “light mottled feather, from under woodcock’s wing, peacock herl head. Silk, brownish body well waxed. Remarks Comes on early in February. Kills well until the end of March. Hook 14.” T. E. Pritt also lists a dressing for the Winter Brown, No. 3, in North-Country Flies (1886):

“Wings.-Hackled with a feather from the inside of a Woodcock’s wing.
Body.-Orange silk—not too bright
Head.-Peacock herl.

Pritt notes that the Winter Brown is a “favourite early fly on all the Yorkshire rivers, killing well on wild, windy days in March and April. The wings assume a light shade in the course of the day ten days after its first appearance on the water, when it is common dressed as No. 4. Little Winter Brown; or, Light Woodcock.”

It is Pritt's Little Winter Brown, No. 4, that later dressings like Edmonds and Lee and Woolley follow most closely. In fact, Sylvester Nemes recommends the Winter Brown dressed on a size 20 hook in his 2006 additions to his original Soft-Hackled Fly (1975). 

Michael Theakston offered a similar dressing for the second fly of his List of Natural Flies (1843), variously the Early Brown, Dark Brown, or Winter Brown: he preferred an orange silk body, woodcock hackle, and a brown mohair thorax to the peacock herl head Pritt prescribes. John Turton lists a dressing for the Winter Brown, No. 69, in The Angler’s Manual (1836) that seems to incorporate the most striking aspects of Theakston's and Pritt's dressings. Turton gives his precedent pattern for “October and November: made with orange silk; wing, woodcock’s under wing feather; body, bright orange silk, headed with magpie’s tail green feather.”

 This dressing of John Swarbrick's Winter Brown, which is the version Leslie Magee lists as one of his preferred patterns in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), substitutes the grayish American woodcock covert for an English woodcock undercovert.

Leslie Magee reprints another list of flies older than Lister’s in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994), John Swarbrick’s “List of Wharfdale Flies” (1807). Swarbrick’s list begins with the Winter Brown:

“About the 26 of Feby you may begin Flie Fishing.
Make the Winter Brown it is Made from underneath the Wood Cock wing one of the Large Feathers wich Covers the quill feathers you Must Make This a Hackle Flie you Must make the Bodey with Red silk and a little peacock Harl in the Head.”


  1. Neil
    I could see a nice brown or rainbow taking this delicate pattern in one of the Smoky Mountain streams. Nicely done, thanks for sharing

    1. (Hi Bill - I'm hoping to find out sometime this weekend if the weather clears and the water isn't up too high.)

  2. As usual, I am impressed with this little pattern. Finding the correct materials to duplicate this fly makes it a unique one.

    1. Hi Mel - some great substitutes for the pattern are rust-colored sculpin wool wound on the silk for a body and the marginal coverts from a bobwhite quail. In fact, I think I prefer the quail.