Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Brown - Spider, Nymph (or Flymph), and Moorish Brown

Sylvester Nemes's March Brown Spider.



Mixed hair from hare’s face

Narrow gold

Brown partridge
Tying Silk:


In the Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), Sylvester Nemes provides a dressing for a simple March Brown Spider that Dave Hughes includes in Wet Flies (1995). It incorporates many of the attributes of typical March Brown soft hackles: a brownish body, often of hare’s mask; a well-marked hackle, often partridge, but occasionally woodcock or grouse; and a prominent rib. (March Brown dressings often include wings. Even though I often included winged dressings and sometimes dress them as soft hackles, I will only mention winged patterns  in passing.) Dressings of the March Brown are as numerous as the anglers who dress them and often include other names, like the Hackled Deul Cruik. These are a few.

James Leisenring's March brown Nymph is the sort of fly Hidy had in mind when he defined flymphs as a class of dressing, with tails, slender abdomens, bulky thoraxes, and short, soft hackles. This dressing uses silver wire.

James Leisenring offers a dressing of the March Brown Nymph that utilizes the coppery brown tone of pheasant tail:

“HOOK  13.
SILK  Orange.
HACKLE A short-fibered, light brown feather from the Hungarian partridge.
TAIL  Three fibers from a cock pheasant tail feather tied very short.
RIB  Gold or silver wire.
BODY  Three reddish fibers from a center feather of a cock pheasant’s tail. (As with peacock’s herl, tie in, twist with thread, and wing up body, twisting together as you to.)
THORAX  Hare’s ear fur dubbed fairly heavily.”

Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee provide a complicated dressing for the March Brown in their Brook and River Trouting (1916). It is No. 8b, tied on “Hook 2 or 3”:

“WINGS.-Hackled with a mottle brown feather from a Snipe’s rump.
BODY.-Orange silk, No. 6a, dubbed with fur from the nape of a Rabbit’s neck which has been light tinged red with Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye, and ribbed with gold wire or tinsel.
TAIL.-Two strands from a feather from a Snipe’s rump, same feather as it used for the wings.
HEAD.-Orange silk.
April, and often May.”

In his North-Country Flies (1886), T. E. Pritt offers five dressings, Nos. 11-15, for the March Brown, known alternately as the Great Brown, Brown Drake, or Dun Drake. No. 13 is dressed as a hackle and included in Fly Fishing: the North-Country Tradition (1994) as one of Leslie Magee’s favorites. It is dressed thus:

“HOOK 2.
WINGS.-Hackled, the reddish feather from the outside of a Woodcock’s wing.
BODY.-Orange silk, dubbed over with a little fur from a fox’s ear.”

Pritt notes that “many anglers fish the March Brown, or a variation of it, more or less, all the year round, lessening the size as the months go on and dressing it with a lighter feather.”

John Jackson also list multiple patterns, all winged wet flies, in his Practical Fly Fisher (1853). His four patterns, under the heading “No. 8 Great Brown,” vary to account for season or weather. Michael Theakston refers to the March Brown as the Brown Drake, and represents it as the fifteenth fly in his List of Natural Flies (1853): “Wings, a feather from under the wing of the hen pheasant; body, yellow silk, with a few fibres of light fur from a hare’s ear, wrought in at the breast.” John Turton includes a winged dressing of the March Brown as the first fly in his Angler’s Manual (1836).

The Bowlkers’ provided dressings for the March Brown as their Brown Dun in The Art of Angling (1758, 1774). Richard Bowlker’s dressing “is made of a partridge or pheasant’s feather; the body of a patridge’s hackle with hair’s fur under it, ribbed with yellow silk.” Charles’s dressing is very similar: the fly’s “wings are made of the feathers of a pheasant’s wing, which is full of fine shade, and exactly resembles the wing of the fly: The body is made of the bright part of hares furr, mixed with a little of the red part of squirrels furr, ribbed with yellow silk, and a partridges hackle wrapt twise or thrice under the but of the wing”

John Waller Hills references James Chetham’s Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681) as the first text that mentions the March Brown.  He explains that Chetham called it the Moorish Brown, but the Moorish Brown is a later addition in a printing from 1700, wherein Chetham credits this fly as belonging to “Another Catalogue, of Flies, practiced by a very good Angler, and useful to be known by the young Anglers in clear, Stony Rivers.” The Moorish Brown is “Dub’d of the Wooll of a Black Sheep and Red Silk, Wings of the Feather got from a Partridge Wings.” Hills prefers Chetham’s pattern and writes “I rather like Chetham’s pattern, for black sheep’s wool is brown when held up to the light, and if spun on red silk might give the reddish brown of the body which is so hard to copy. And then a partridge quill feather is good. The perfect fly is still to come, but meantime it is worth noticing how little it has changed in what is nearly two centuries and a half.”

James Chetham's Moorish Brown 

This dressing of Chetham’s Moorish Brown uses:
Body: Blackish-brown raw wool dubbed on red Pearsall’s silk
Hackle: Brown partridge


  1. One of my favorites and some very well tied examples indeed

  2. The intermingling of the red is a sure attention getter, bright colors can certainly make a difference on those slow days---nice job at the bench!!

  3. Been tying boxes of soft hackles this winter. What feathers do you use to sub. for Dotteral feathers as hackles?

    1. The Dotterel is a pattern I plan to post soon(-ish), and from everything I've read, any soft dun hackle with buff to golden brown tips work. Most authors specifically recommend the feathers under the wing of a starling. The most likely candidates for a dotterel substitute are on the joint between the wing and the body.

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  5. Nice creativity..!!!!
    I like this Post. It is so nice to read such wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing!

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