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.


  1. Excellent post, Neil. Sylvester Nemes was an honor to watch at a past fly tying conclave. I believe he may have tied this pattern at the time. I am off to the vise to get a few tied up for my fly box of Soft Hackles.

    1. He certainly speaks highly of it in the book, though he makes little mention of Blacker's Pismire or even Blacker in general. Did Nemes have any particular tricks for dressing it?

    2. It has probably been (20) years or so since I watched him tie this pattern. He made it look so easy, but, I don't recall anything to particular about any tricks. I remember being impressed that he spun the peacock and pheasant together and his soft hackle went on so nicely. Mine don't always do that..............................

    3. Neil, almost forgot. As I recall, he used silk thread. I think he may have been the first person that I ever saw using a silk thread.

  2. Neil
    I am so impressed with both these patterns, I can see fishing both flies in some of the fast water I frequent a lot on our local tailrace. Awesome work at the bench as usual. Thanks for sharing