Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Red Brown

This dressing opts for yellow rather than orange silk for the body and tying silk. It also reconfigures Michael Theakston's mostly winged  patterning, which uses a small fur thorax to represent legs beneath a soft hackle winging, into a more traditional soft hackle form.


Yellow Pearsall’s gossamer silk

Tying silk

Gray squirrel fur

Speckled hen hackle - here, Whiting Brahma

Early stoneflies like the February Red “are the earliest hatchings of the aquatic angling flies, and the first of the season to raise and cheer the lone trout,” Michael Theakston explains in his List of Flies (1843), “the harbingers of his better days; the warm sun draws out the firstlings of these hardy families; and they increase in numbers as the season advances, and the weather permits.” While Theakston does not cite a February Red, he does include a Red Brown as a dressing for February with “wings, from the landrail, or a slightly broken feather from a light freckled brown hen, or selected from the brown owl; orange or yellow silk for the body, with a few fibres of mohair or squirrel’s fur, at the breast, in imitation of the legs.” Theakston suggests two different colors for the body, but this comes as little surprise since every angling author seems to prefer a different color to imitate the same insect. 

John Waller Hills famously argued in his History of Fly Fishing (1921) that the Orange Patridge or Partridge and Orange, much after the fashion of Theakston, is the classic dressing for the February Red, and he conjectures that Dame Juliana Berners' gray wool-bodied Donne Fly, a part of her twelve fly list in A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (1496), was also originally dressed to match this early stonefly hatch. Both James Chetham's Angler’s Vade Mecum (1681) and Charles Cotton’s additions to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1667) include a dressing for the Red-Brown (or Lesser Red-Brown) for February angling. Cotton devotes more explanation to this fly than many: "Where the Red-Brown of the last Month ends, another almost of the same colour begins with this, saving that the dubbing of this must be of something a blacker colour, and both of them warpt on with red silk; the dubbing that should make this Flie, and that is the truest colour, is to be got of the black spot of a Hogs ear: not that a black spot in any part of the Hog will not afford the same colour; but that the hair in that place is by degrees softer, and more fit for the purpose: his wing must be as the other, and this kills all this Month, and is call’d the lesser Red-Brown." (The January dressing that Cotton references and adjusts for February included very specifically "the dubbing of the tail of a black long coated Cur, such as they commonly makes muffs of; for the hair on the tail of such a Dog dies, and turns to a red Brown.")

This dressing of Alfred Ronald's Red Brown used claret thread, and substitutes a blend of claret acrylic and gray squirrel for the body and a rib of doubled and twisted java brown Pearsall's gossamer silk. It uses a medium ginger hackle in place of the coppery dun Ronald's prescribes.

Likewise, Richard and Charles Bowlker both include for the Red Fly in their editions of The Art of Angling (1758, 1774), but theirs are winged wet flies. Alfred Ronalds follows their cue in his Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836). The Red Fly is the first on his list and is also dressed as a winged wet, though he does, as usual, offer an alternative buzz or hackle dressing that uses a "copper tinged dun hackle." The body he prescribes is much more complicated than the simple silk recommended by other authors: "The dubbing is composed of the dark red part of squirrel's fur, mixed with an equal quantity of claret-coloured mohair, showing the most claret colour at the tail of the fly. This is spun on, and warped with brown silk thread." 


  1. Neil
    I have become a fan of the hackle pattern, mainly because of your patterns I have seen on your post. This soft hackle works best for me on days when the trout are sub surface feeding. Some of my most aggressive takes occur when the fly is drifting right below the surface. The Red Brown and the Blue Partridge are two of my favorites. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks, Bill. I've always liked a soft hackle best just below the surface, too (or deeper in a Smokies plunge pool)

  2. The soft hackles are great to drift down a slow stream, the brookies around here love them.

    1. I love them in slower water, but I have a lot of luck with them on swift streams in the Great Smoky Mountains, too. I like Leisenring's advice, to use softer hackles for slower waters and stiffer, usually cock, hackles for faster currents.