Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Smoky Mountain Blackbird; Crow Fly; or, Black Palmer

This dressing of the Smoky Mountain Blackbird is unweighted and uses the 2x dry fly hook in size 14 that other flies in this blog use. Also, following an almost identical dressing by Roger Lowe, the Crow Fly, it uses a starling primary for the palmer.




Starling primary barbules, tied the length of the hook shank

Peacock herl

Split starling primary

L. J. DeCuir includes the Smoky Mountain Blackbird in his Southeastern Flies (2001), noting the similarities between it and the better known Yallerhammer—it uses a peacock herl body and “utilizes the split wing feather of a bird.” DeCuir gives this dressing for the fly:

Hook: Mustad 9672, TMC 5263 or 3x or 4x Streamer Hook #4-10
Thread: Black
Weight: ‘Lead’ wire [or lead substitute]
Tail: Barbules from the wing feather of a blackbird
Palmered Rib: Split wing feather of a blackbird
Body: Peacock herl”

While the Smoky Mountain Blackbird most resembles DeCuir’s tailless dressing of the Yallerhammer, “it can also be fished like a Woolly Bugger,” even though, as DeCuir notes, it is “usually fished in the mountains of the Southeast like most heavily weighted nymphs.”

The “blackbird” of DeCuir’s Smoky Mountain Blackbird does not specify a species like the distinctive Yallerhammer, despite their similarities, and there are nearly thirty species of blackbird in the Americas. Roger Lowe gives an almost identical dressing in his Fly Pattern Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains (2001), which he calls Crow Fly. He notes that it is “tied similar to the Yellow Hammer but with a Crow feather; imitates the molting stonefly.”

“Hook: 9671 Mustad
Thread: Black
Body: Black yarn or peacock herl
Hackle: Biot quill from Crow or Starling”

Similar tailless dressings exist, most often listed as a Black Palmer. John Turton’s includes a Black Palmer Fly in his Angler’s Manual (1836) for fishing in the latter part of the season, from “July to September.” He dresses it “with dark orange silk; wing, black hen’s hackle feather; body, copper-coloured peacock’s feather; after rains, ribbed with silver twist.”

Roger Woolley includes a Black Palmer in a later edition of Modern Trout Flies (1950) that does not list a thread color, as is usually the case with the flies on Woolley’s list, but includes the materials for dressing Turton’s “after rains” Black Palmer Fly, with a rib of silver wire rather than silver twist. It could easily be dressed with the dark orange thread Turton gives.

The name Black Palmer covers a variety of dressings, the black referring either to the hackle, as in Turton’s dressing, or the body, like the Black Palmers of Alfred Ronalds’ and Charles Bowlker’s. Both Ronald’s and Bowlker’s dressings, in The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology (1836) and The Art of Angling (1774) respectively, utilize a black ostrich body, silver twist, and either a black or red cock’s hackle palmer.

John Jackson’s Practical Fly Fisher (1853) includes a dressing for the black palmer that is much more variable (and includes a variation that is very similar to the Yallerhammer):

Body.—Dark Peacock’s, or Ostrich’s herl, ribbed with gold tinsel and green silk.
Black, brown, or dark red Cock’s hackle over all.”


  1. Thanks, Neil, for the history lesson once again. I love what I see here. I need to purchase a good quality Starling skin.

    1. Nice job Neil. It looks very similar to an Adirondack Mountain fly- the Ausable Bomber. The color and materials are different but the idea of using a palmered dry fly for mountain streams is the same.

    2. Thanks, Mel! You might be able to get a quality skin from a friend with an old barn. If nothing else, get a winter bird.

    3. Thanks, Mark - you ought to posta picture a Ausable Bomber here