Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Stone Fly; Stone Flye or Flie; and, the Montana Stonefly

This dressing of the Stone Fly that Richard Bowlker describes in The Art of Angling (1757) departs from the general rule of the blog and uses a size 10 hook instead of a size 14. It also substitutes a blend of beaver fur and golden stonefly antron dubbed on rib of silk buttonhole twist, which, when wet, would be an apt substitute for Bowlker's “body with dark brown mohair, mixed with dirty yellow.”



Wood Duck

Silk button hole twist – Belding-Corticelli 3715 bamboo, size D

Silk button hole twist – Belding-Corticelli 3715 bamboo, size D dubbed with an equal blend of beaver fur and golden stonefly antron

Grizzly cock

In a discussion of stoneflies in his Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1996), Leslie Magee suggests that “of all the flies imitated by the flyfisher, the larger stoneflies are the least familiar; few of the that I meet on the riverside have ever handled a ‘creeper’ (the nymph or larvae) or an adult stonefly,” and that bait fishing with the stonefly was more common. While the popularity of bait fishing with the stonefly has passed, Magee points out that it was still popular in T. E. Pritt’s time, “when fishing the live creeper and the adult stonefly cast upstream was all the rage on several North Country rivers.” Despite Magee's assertion that the popularity of bait fishing with stoneflies had waned by the early twentieth century, Harfield Edmonds and Norman Lee devoted a chapter to it in their Brook and River Trouting (1916); “20 years after the publication of Brook and River Trouting upstream fishing with the creeper and live stonefly was virtually extinct” due to developments in angling gear and fly fishing methods.

Nevertheless, historical angling authors give testament to Magee’s assertion that fishing stone flies as bait was a centuries old practice, much like fishing nymphal and mature Green Drakes. John Kirkbride, for instance, expresses this preference in his Northern Angler (1837): the Stone Fly, “on a hot day, is a most destructive bait for trout,” and it “is seldom used as an artificial fly; for it is best to dab with it after it takes wing. It is here called the May-fly.” Michael Theakston likewise notes in his List of Natural Flies (1843), that the stone fly, the “Imperial Empress of all trout flies,” is “in general fished natural.” “After sunset she comes out,” he notes, “for her enjoyments are chiefly in the dusk and twilight of night and early morn; the whole family are then in motion—flying about—running among the stones, and paddling upon the waters.” Theakston explains that, to fish the stone fly successfully, the angler must “move, unseen, with easy motion up the stream, and dab the fly with precision on the eddies behind stones, or other places of succour where the trout takes his station; or let it glide free and natural down the current over his likely haunts; never drag it against the stream (unnatural for any fly) or suffer it to drown; but succour and recover it by easy lifts and gentle jerks, to keep it on the water alive and dry, for a dead fly hanging at the hook like a piece of wet moss, will not be taken on the top.” Theakston regards fishing the stone fly as an artificial as “a true trier of skill, and probably the best test of the general merits of the flyfisher. Each rustic craftsman along the banks of the winding streams, where the true art and science of flyfishing is best known and practised, greet with glee the presence of the stone fly.”

In the third edition of his Modern Trout Fishing (1950), some twenty-five years after bait fishing the stonefly went extinct, in Magee’s account, Roger Woolley emphasized how often the stone fly is fished as a natural, noting that “it is more used in its natural state than as an artificial. It is called the Mayfly on the north country rivers, where it hatches out in great numbers.” Woolley points out that “it is not always easy to procure a sufficient number of the natural flies for a day’s fishing, and then the artificial has to be resorted to, but the stone fly anglers prefer the natural fly is procurable.” He goes on to list eighteen dressings for smaller stoneflies, including five soft hackles like the Winter Brown that he attributes to the North Country tradition.

Although Woolley’s dressings are almost evenly split between winged and corresponding hackled versions, historical stone flies patterns were most often winged dressings. John Jackson’s Practical Fly-Fisher (1854) includes a winged stone fly, no. 32, the May-Fly, but notes that the fly is “generally fished natural, being large enough to swim a good sized hook, or two smaller ones tied double.” Theakston’s dressing is also winged, as is the Stone Fly that William Blacker includes in his Art of Angling (1843). Kirkbride, Alfred Ronalds in The Fly-fisher’s Entomology (1837), and John Turton’s Angler’s Manual (1836) provide dressings that seem to derive from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antecedents that John Waller Hills describes in A History of Fly Fishing for Trout (1921).

Hills lists the Stonefly as one of the twelve most important flies to anglers, giving a brief account of early dressings from Dame Julianna Berner’s A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (1496) to Charles Cotton’s 1676 additions to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (1657). Hills points out that the Stonefly “has changed neither in name nor in dressing. It is quite unmistakeable, a fat, stupid, clumsy clown, better at running than flying. The Treatise is as follows: ‘The stone fly, the body of black wool and yellow under the wing and under the tail, and the wings of the drake.’ Markham as usual makes the dressing more definite: the yellow under wings and tail is to be made with yellow silk and the wings are of a drake's down, not the quill feather. Cotton knew the fly well and gives an excellent account of its history: he made the body of dun bear's hair and brown and yellow camlet well mixed, making your fly more yellow on the belly and towards the tail, two or three hairs of a black cat's beard for tail, and long, very large wings of grey mallard. Though we use different furs from Cotton, his body survives unchanged in essence: but a hen pheasant's quill feather makes a truer wing than light mallard, and we like to add a hackle, either blue dun or greenish. But the changes are immaterial.”

Part of the “excellent account” that Hills attributes to Cotton includes a description of the Stone-Flies’ unique manner of hatching and eagerness of the trout to feed on them: “This same Stone-Flie has not the patience to continue in his Crust, or Husk till his wings be full grown, but so soon as ever they begin to put out, that he feels himself strong (at which time we call him a Jack) squeezes himself out of Prison, and crawls to the top of some stone, where he can find a chink that will receive him, or can creep betwixt two stones, the one lying hollow upon the other (which, by the way, we also lay so purposely to find them) he there lurks tills his wings be full grown, and there is your only place to find him (and from thence doubtless he derives his name) though, for want of convenience, he will make shift with the hollow of a Bank, or any other place where the wind cannot come to fetch him off.” Cotton notes that anglers often “dape or dibble” the natural Stone-Flie, “as with the [Green] Drake” and that fishing the fly is “much better toward 8, 9, 10 or eleven of the clock, at which time also the best fish rise, and the latter the better, provided you can see your Flie, and when you cannot, a made Flie will murder.”

In his Fly Fisher’s Guide (1816), George Bainbridge nods toward three traditions of fishing the stone fly. Not only is it “a deadly bait, used in the natural state,” but it is dressed after the fashion of Cotton's and Berners' precedent, winged and with a bear fur body. Brainbridge notes that it is also dressed as a hackled pattern, with “a long-fibred grizzled hackle from a cock’s back, without wings.” This latter dressing specifically recalls the Stone Flies of Richard Bowlker and his son Charles. Richard Bowlker provides a simple, soft hackle dressing for the Stone Fly in his Art of Flyfishing (1757). He describes the insect as “a large four-winged fly; bred from an insect in the water, called the water cricket; to be found in stony, gravelly brooks, or rivers; his belly is of a dirty yellow, his wings of a fine blue color, full of small veins, so that he is best made with a fine blue grizzle cock’s hackle; the body with dark brown mohair mixed with a dirty yellow.” Charles Bowlker offers a similar dressing in his 1776 edition, though its description reads more like a palmer: “This fly is made of the brown feather of a hen. His belly is of a dirty yellow and his back of the dark brown. His body is made of a yellow or brown spaniel’s hair, or Mohair, with the grizzled hackle of a cock around it.”

Breaking with the usual size 14 hook size for the blog, this dressing uses a 4x bait hook. It substitutes a cree hackle for the brown and grizzly hackles Charles Brooks requires.

Stonefly dressings are the stock-in-trade of modern American anglers, though they are often involved dressings. A notable exception is Charles Brooks' Montana Stonefly nymph. Brooks famously dressed heavily-weighted nymphal patterns “in the round” for fishing deep, boulder-studded pocket water of the western trout streams he favored—much like the water Theakston and the Bowlkers reference—and he described his methods of fishing and dressing them in Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout (1976). Though it is a bit of a stretch, many, such as his Montana Stone Fly, are essentially soft hackles or flymphs, not far removed in form the Hare's Ear Flymph that Dave Hughes describes in Wet Flies (1995). This fly recalls the Bowlkers own dressing, though it is unlikely Brooks had access to their books. Brooks dressed his Montana Stone on long, heavy wire hooks in sizes 4 to 8 and weighted them heavily in order to represent the “Pteronarcys genus of stoneflies, especially P. californica,” also known as the Giant Salmon Fly Nymph, a must different stone fly than the one Alfred Ronalds describes: a fly hatching from the beginning of April until the end of May, of the “Order, Neuroptera. Family, PerlidÅ“. Genus, Perla. Species, Bicaudata.” Ronalds' stonefly is likely much more closely related to the fly Ernest Schwiebert describes in Nymphs (1973) as Perla Capitata, the Great Stonefly Nymph, Art Flick's Stonefly Creeper. Brooks’ Montana Stone is somewhat more complicated to dress than the Bowlkers:

Tail: Six fibers of raven or crow primary.
Rib: Copper wire.
Body: Black fuzzy yarn, four strand.
Hackle: One grizzly saddle and one grizzly dyed dark brown. Strip hackles off lower hackles before tying in.
Gills: Light gray or white ostrich herls.
Thread: Black nymo 3/0.”

Brooks directs fly tiers to: “Tie in thread at front, wind to bend. Lacquer shank. Tie in tail fibers and split to form forked tail, three fibers per side. Tie in ribbing and yarn. Wind thread forward, half hitch twice, and break off. Lacquer shank again. Wind yarn to eye, back to bend, forward to eye and back to base of thorax. Tie off, tying in thread at same time. Wind rib and tie off. Tie in one strand of ostrich herl, and both hackles by the butts. Strip fibers off lower side of both hackles. Wind two separated turns of hackle, one at the base of the thorax and another halfway between there and the eye. Both colors of hackle should lie one against the other. Tie off. Wind ostrich herl forward at the base of the hackles, tie off. Spiral thread forward and finish head large and lacquer well.”