Wednesday, July 30, 2014


This dressing depicts the first rendering of T. F. Salter's dressing that Sylvester Nemes suggests. It only uses one strand of peacock herl to complement the two barbs from a cock pheasant's tail



Tobacco brown or rust

Pheasant tail and peacock herl twisted with the tying thread

Light starling undercovert

In Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004), Sylvester Nemes gives particular attention to the Pismire fly in his treatment of T. F. Salter’s The Angler’s Guide (1823). He suggests that the fly might be intended as a dressing for an ant. The word "pismire" is, as Nemes notes, an old word for the insect. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that "pismire" has fourteenth-century etymological roots from which "pissant" is derived, and that it first shows up in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1395).

The dressing that Salter gives seems to be for a winged wet, much like ant patterns that had been popular as early as Charles Cotton's additions to the Compleat Angler (1676) through the mid-nineteenth century. James Chetham recommends the Pismire-fly in his Angler's Vade Mecum (1681) as "a good fly," dressed with a "Body of bright Brown Bears Hair twirl'd upon Red Silk, Wings of the saddest colour'd Feather got from the Quill of a Shepstares Wing." Salter, on the other hand, dressed the fly with a "body of a cock-pheasant’s tail, a peacock’s herl to be twisted with it, and warp [wound] with ruddy silk; wings the light part of a starling’s feather, and to be made longer than the body.”

Nemes provides “two suggested patterns based on Salter’s Pismire fly,” though neither explicitly suggests an ant:

“1. Body: Two strands of peacock herl and two barbs from a rooster pheasant’s tail, wound together. Hackle: Starling feather, including the lighter, dun colored barbs at the bottom of the feather.

2. Body: Two strands of peacock herl and two barbs from a rooster pheasant’s tail, wound together. Hackle: Gray partridge breast feather or a two-toned feather from the back of the bird.”

William Blacker also provides what is likely intended to be a terrestrial dressing, the Pismire No. 30, for June and July in his Art of Angling (1843). The dressing is much simpler than Salter’s and, similar to Nemes's versions, seems to be more of a general than a strictly imitative pattern. His illustration on the second plate of flies in the book does not directly resemble an ant in shape, though the color is reminiscent of the red ants his predecessors described. Blacker dressed his Pismire as a simple palmer:

“Body, Brown mohair.
Legs, Small red hackle, wound up from the tail.
     (No wings.)”

This dressing substitutes cinnamon acrylic canvas yarn for brown mohair and uses tobacco brown thread.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cow-turd Flie; or, more commonly (and recently), the Cowdung

This fly uses thread color for the body that James Leisenring’s dressing prescribes and body dubbing in the colors most dressings historically suggest, while maintain the "full and rough" body Leisenring recommends.( Earlier dressings prescribe colors rather than specific furs.) It uses tan hen hackle to strike a medium between Charles Cotton’s, James Chetham’s and Leisenring’s dressing for both wings and hackle.




Medium hare’s ear mixed with golden stone antron on orange Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk

Tan hen’s back, very lightly speckled

Although the Cow-turd or Cowdung is traditionally a winged wet fly, its simplicity lends itself to a soft-hackled dressing. It is tied to represent a terrestrial (Scatophaga stercoraria, T. Donald Overfield explains) born most prolifically near pastures where cattle have recently grazed. The insect’s point of origin is the fly’s namesake. Charles Cotton gives a dressing in his additions to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1676). It is a May dressing: “We have then the Cow-turd flie; the dubbing light brown, and yellow mixt, the wing the dark grey feather of a Mallard.” James Cheatham provides the almost exactly the same dressing in the list of flies he appends to a later edition of his  Anglers Vade Mecum (1681): “Dubbing light Brown and Yellow mix’d, the Wings of the dark Grey Feather of a wild Mallard.”

The pattern is essentially unchanged since Cotton published his dressing. T. Donald Overfield provides an overview of this history in his “Flies of Yesteryear” column in the Spring Special issue of 1977. He explains that “Generations of fly tiers have not ignored the Cow Dung, as evidenced by the countless dressings described in famous angling books. Besides Charles Cotton, Richard and Charles Bowlker mention it in The Art of Angling (1747). Other historic works that included dressing of this fly are Robert Salter’s The Modern Angler (1811), C. Bainbridge’s The Fly Fishers Guide (1816, Alfred Ronald’s Fly Fishers Entomology (1836), G. P. R. Pulman’s Vade Mecum of Fly Fishing (1849), W. Blacker’s The Angling Flies (1853), J. Jackson’s The Practical Fly Fisher (1854), Henry Wade’s Rod Fishing with Fly (1861), St. John Dick’s Flies and Fly Fishing (1873), James Ogden’s On Fly Tying (1879), and F. M. Halford’s Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886).”

James Leisenring also gives a dressing of the Cowdung in The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph (1941). He notes that

“The Cowdung is not a water-bred fly but it is blown into the water and taken eagerly by the trout in streams flowing through meadows where cattle are grazing. If the weather is open they appear from March throughout the season and they may be seen in various sizes clustered on every cow dropping. The wings are almost transparent and should be imitated with the land rail feather that has the pinkish tinge of the natural fly. The body should be dressed rather full and rough.

HOOK  12,13.
SILK  Orange.
HACKLE Ginger hackle similar to the color of the body.
BODY  Yellow crewel wool, seal fur or mohair mixed with a little brown fur to soften the glare and give the whole a dirty orange tinge.
WINGS Land rail slightly longer than the body and sloping back close to the body, glossy side out.”

In Wet Flies (1995), Dave Hughes lists a more modern dressing of the Cowdung:

“Hook: 2x stout, size 12-16.
Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0 nylon.
Hackle: Brown hen.
Body: Dark olive and cinnamon fur dubbing, mixed, or Hare-Tron #24, Olive Brown.
Wing: Gray goose or mallard wing quill sections.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Small Ant; and, Black Ant; etc.

This dressing for T. E. Pritt's Small Ant Fly, No. 58, substitutes a reddish-brown hen for the tomtit's tail Pritt recommends.




Peacock herl, tied large fore and aft

Reddish-brown (furnace) hen with a black list

Ant patterns have historically been popular with anglers, presumably because they are effective dressings and relatively easy to dress. The Mid-Season 1978 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine included an article entitled “Ants,” a deceptively simple title for a comprehensive treatment of the insect. Author Ernest Schwiebert examines the ant’s “structural morphology” and asserts, tongue-in-cheek perhaps, that the “angler fully prepared to match ant forms on most American rivers must have 40-odd patterns in his bag of tricks" that range widely in size, from the size 28 Minute Black Ant (Monomorium ergatogyna) to  the size 10 Giant Carpenter Ant (Camponotus occidentalis), and in color, from black to brown to red to red-brown to hot orange to yellow to pinkish-red fox to whatever best matches the nuance of different species’ gasters, pedicels, and legs. 

Most anglers before Schwiebert and since (and likely into perpetuity) have preferred simpler criteria for delineating the wide variety of ant species: black or red and winged or wingless. 

British angling-authors often focused on winged ants, and used a range of materials to form the body, although they were most commonly peacock or ostrich herl. The wingless pattern shown above is the Small Ant, No. 52 that T. E. Pritt includes in  North-Country Flies (1886):

“WINGS.—Hackled with a feather from a Tomtit’s tail.
BODY AND HEAD.—A bright brownish peacock’s herl; body dressed full, as shown in the plate.”

Plate 10 for June and July shows a dressing that mimics the typical dressing for an ant—a larger body and smaller head separated by hackle. Pritt notes that the pattern “is best on hot days in July and August. The natural fly is abundant on almost every English river, and the artificial fly is alluded to by most writers. It will now and then do great execution, particularly after a flight of ants.” Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee include an almost identical dressing in their Brook and River Trouting (1916), but they place the hackle  just behind the eye, a position more typical of historical soft-hackled flies than the mid-shank dressing.

Pritt also includes a Large Ant, No 58, which is a winged dressing, much more in the traditional style of ant patterns. It retains the fore-and-after body style, but hackles the fly at the front of the hook, under a wing that extends beyond the aft section of the body. The vast majority of ant patterns are dressed for winged ants, often utilizing a peacock or fur body. John Jackson gives a dressing for the Black and Red Ant, Nos. 44 and 45, in The Practical Angler (1854). His dressing for the Red Ant is unique in that it calls for the “Herl of Cock Pheasant’s tail” to be used for the body, and in the Art of Angling (1843), William Blacker includes a dressing for a body with “Black mohair.”  In his List of Natural Flies (1843), Michael Theakston also includes dressings for the Red Ant Fly, No. 77—which he recommends to anglers with “the scriptural mandate: ‘Go to the Ant, etc.’”—and the Black Ant Fly, No. 80. Theakston dresses the latter uniquely: “Wings, a silvery grizzle cock’s hackle; dark, blood red or black silk, well waxed, for body, etc.; with a few fibres of dark red mohair at the breast, for legs.”  John Kirkbride, on the other hand, offers fairly traditional dressings for the Red Ant Fly and the Black Ant Flies with bodies of peacock or black ostrich, respectively, in The Northern Angler (1837). John Turton, too, dresses a traditional, winged Red Ant Fly, No. 10 in The Angler’s Manual (1836).

Alfred Ronalds includes a dressing for the Red and Black Ant, No. 36, in The Fly Fisher’s Entymology (1836) that combines the body materials to dress the Black Ant:

This dressing omits the starling wing, but maintains the placement of the hackle that Ronalds depicts on color plate XVI his book. Since he does not prescribe a thread color, this dressing maintains the  color given for the red ant, even though wine or black would seem more appropriate.

Ronalds gives this dressing for the Black Ant: “THE BLACK ANT is made of peacock’s herl, and black ostrich mixed, for the body. Wings from the darkest part of the starling’s wing, and legs a black cock’s hackle.

An ant pattern is also listed as the Aunt Flie, No. 22, in John Swarbrick’s List of Wharfedale Flies (1807), which Leslie Magee reprints in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994). Swarbrick’s pattern calls for the same body and winging materials as Pritt’s ant patterns, but peacock is first listed as a body material for red ants in Charles Bowlker’s Art of Angling (1774). Both Charles’ edition and his father Richard’s (1758), utilize black ostrich for the body of the black ant. Richard, however, preferred a body dubbed with “hog’s down, died of an amber colour” for the red ant, which seems an heir to the “dubbing of brown and red Camlet mixt” for dressing the  “flying Ant, or Ant-flie” that Charles Cotton July in his 1676 additions to the Compleat Angler.