For generations of Yorkshire anglers, the tying and fishing of the region’s famous wet fly patterns has, in many ways, become an act of faith. An affirmation and communion built around two exalted testaments which still illuminate our angling thoughts and endeavours to this day. This year April 4th marks the centenary of the publication of Edmonds & Lee’s classic work Brook and River Trouting. A publication that in many respects, represents the New Testament of the North Country School, and rightfully sits alongside Pritt’s earlier publication of 1885 as one of the definitive handbooks for North Country anglers. As both authors went on to state in their preface, their initial aim was simply was to set down an explanation of the correct feathers used in the dressing of the various North Country patterns, along with photographic illustrations of the required feathers, materials and flies. However, as the two authors progressed in their writing endeavours, both men became increasingly aware of the bewildering number of patterns in earlier North Country books and fly lists, and recognised the need for a rationalisation in the actual number of patterns needed for a season. Quite how they separated the wheat from the chaff is unknown. However, with the publication of Brook and River Trouting, Edmonds & Lee certainly oversaw an extensive cull of long-standing traditional patterns, and paved the way for a more systematic and thoughtful approach to the dressing and fishing of the North Country flies. Later, in the second part of their book, the two authors would bring all their years of angling experience to bear. They expounded upon the various methods of fishing the flies on the northern rivers, with their exertions resulting in Brook and River Trouting becoming a tour de force and a stand out text on the subject.
Both authors were born into prosperous Bradford families in the late 1800’s, and spent their formative years in the then affluent Heaton borough of Bradford before moving farther afield in later years. Harfield Henry Edmonds was mainly brought up by his grandparents at the imposing home of his grandfather Thomas Edmonds, the founder of Edmonds & Sons Textiles Ltd. And Norman Nellist Lee lived nearby at Briarwood Villa, the grandiose home of his father John Lee, company secretary and director of Samuel Cunliffe Lister’s Manningham Silk Mills. After being educated at Shipley Central Boys School, Saltaire, both men would enter the local Bradford business fraternity with Harfield Edmonds and his brother Louis Albert Edmonds taking over their grandfather’s business and Norman Lee becoming the senior partner in the solicitors chambers of Lee, Armistead and Roberts.
Both men fished from an early age and in a newspaper interview of the 1950’s, Harfield Edmonds states “I have fished since I was a little boy and have always been fascinated by water and what it contains, whether I have a rod or not.” Later, in the same article he also recalled that as a boy he “set out with the object of making a collection of natural flies on our north country rivers and preserving their natural colours”. Having done so he then started to match various feathers to the colour of the wing insects. And from this simple childhood collection would evolve ‘Brook and River Trouting’. In a collection of Lee family letters dated 1939, Norman Lee also recounts aspects of the writing of ‘Brook and River Trouting’ along with his youthful visits to the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey and Burnsall in the 1890’s. “My father and I used take make frequent trips to the river Wharfe, particularly Burnsall where my father’s business associates had built a gentlemen’s club overlooking the river. It was principally here and lower down the valley at Bolton Abbey where my formative angling days were spent.”
With the publication of Brook and River Trouting these two childhood friends emphatically brought the method of dressing and fishing the old North Country flies under the microscope of modernity. The book successfully counters the charge laid at the foot of wet fly fishing that it is a “chuck and chance” style of fishing, with a thorough description of the thoughtful methods employed when fishing the North Country wet fly.
Unlike Pritt’s earlier classic “Yorkshire Trout Flies” later republished as “North Country Flies”. It becomes clear when reading Brook and River Trouting that Edmonds and Lee firmly believed in the entomological reasoning of the patterns contained within their work. A point emphasised, in the 1950’s by Harfield Edmonds who stated “my aim is to try and dress the fly as near to nature as possible so that it cannot be refused.” This entomological reasoning is also in evident when one looks at the skilfully placed name of the order or family of insect under each fly pattern as well as the period of the season in which the artificial should be fished. The book is also complimented with two further separate tables detailing the precise months of the season when the artificial should be fished, allowing the reader to build up a suitable cast of flies for each specific month. A silk shade card is also included to facilitate an accurate representation of the silk colours needed to dress the patterns as purposeful representations on the natural insect found on the water.
The text is also interspersed within several photographs of the river Wharfe at Appletreewick, Bolton Abbey and Burnsall, as well as photographs of the River Aire at Hanlith and Cowside Beck in Littondale. Photographs which were taken by, amongst others, Harfield Edmonds’ brother Louis, who was himself was making strides in the early stages of the British film industry.
Though briefly forgotten in the intervening years since its publication, this scarce publication steadily increased its reputation as one of our sport’s definitive handbooks. The standard edition being reproduced in a series of facsimiles, the first dating back to 1980, and printed by the Orange Partridge Press of Ilkley with an introduction penned by Oliver Edwards. However, it is with the rarer de-luxe edition that the true beauty of this private publication becomes apparent. This edition was specially designed and produced by the Bradford printing company Percy Lund, Humphries & Co, who had steadily gained a reputation as a publisher of illustrated art books. A reputation which would be further enhanced with the publication of the first illustrated monographs on the Britain’s leading artists of the time, such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Paul Nash.
Limited to only fifty copies this rare de-luxe edition contains specimens of the actual flies, each tied by Hardy’s of Alnwick to the two authors specifications, and materials mounted within sunken oval plates, and complimented with one leaf of specimen tying silks. This rare deluxe edition was principally distributed amongst the authors’ families, wealthy friends and associates, and has now become highly prized by angling collectors and often fetching considerable sums of money at auction.
Though many of the artificial fly patterns contained within Brook and River Trouting are familiar to those who regularly fish the northern rivers. The two authors nevertheless included a healthy selection of obscure patterns, including some of their own dressings and personal interpretations of well-known favourites. Examples of which are superbly illustrated in the following three patterns which could quite easily, still form the backbone on any North Country angler’s selection.
No. 8b March Brown
Hook 2 or 3 (12 or 13)
Wings: Hackled with a mottled brown feather from a snipe’s rump.
Body: Orange silk, No.6, dubbed with fur from the nape of a Rabbit’s neck which has been lightly tinged red with Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye. And ribbed with gold wire or tinsel.
Tail: Two strands from a feather from a Snipe’s rump, same feather as used for the wings.
Head: Orange silk.
April and often in May
This March Brown pattern originates with the famous Wharfedale angler John William Reffit, co-founder of the Yorkshire Fly-Fishers club and member of the Kilnsey Angling Club. In the personal letters of G.E.M. Skues to C.A.N. Wauton, Skues goes on to remark “I tied a couple of that snipe rump March Brown I described in my last letter, and enclose them. Just take the hook in hand and blow on the hackle, and see how mobile it is. According to my recollection the snipe rump March Browns I tied for Edmonds were ruddier in the body than these, but the dubbing of these exactly matches the materials supplies to me by Reffitt years ago, and no doubt when it is wet the hot orange silk will show through the dubbing”
While the true March Brown (Rithrogena germanica) is somewhat of a rare sight on our dales rivers. This March Brown dressing is thankfully more adaptable than its name suggests, and provides us with a reliably suggestive imitation of any of the large brown-winged duns of the genus Ecdyonurus, such as the False March Brown and the Large Brook Dun, and it dressing has been championed widely by some of flyfishing’s most notable authors and flytyers, including Oliver Edwards and the late Preben Torp Jacobsen of Denmark. Indeed, the latter included the dressing in his 1995 publication ‘Flies from the Flyleaves of my Diaries’.
No.30 Light Silverhorn
Hook 1 (14)
Wings: From a Thrush’s secondary quill feather, the outer side of the feather as the outside of the wing, or from a Landrail’s primary quill feather, the outer side of the feather as the outside of the wing. Wings put on “penthouse” fashion.
Body: Ash-coloured silk, No. 10, sparingly dubbed with reddish grey fur from thigh of a Squirrel.
Legs: Feather from a young Starling’s thigh or flank.
Head: Ash-coloured silk.
Antennae: Two strands from a black and white feather from a Mallard’s breast.
Middle of July to end of August
Although nowadays rarely dressed and fished by modern North Country anglers, the two Silverhorn patterns mention by Edmonds & Lee are nevertheless two fine examples of North Country wet fly patterns unequivocally dressed as sedge imitations. Both these patterns specific have the use of “penthouse” wings and long front antennae, giving them a unmistakable sedge like appearance. The Light Silverhorn pattern is probably dressed to represent the Brown Silverhorn, (Athriposodes spp,) a highly conspicuous day-active sedge, the males of which can often be seen swarming and zig-zagging across the river’s surface. A species of sedge that is still as prevalent on the beats of the Burnsall club waters as it was in the time of Edmonds & Lee’s membership.
No.20 Stone Midge
Hook 0 or 00 (16 or 18)
Wings: Hackled with a olive green feather from a Green Plover’s neck.
Body – Grey silk, No 9a, well waxed, or ash-coloured silk, No.10, but in both cases dubbed sparingly with bluer-grey Heron herl.
Head: Magpie herl.
Middle of May to end of June.
This small little midge imitation has a long heritage and can be found in various guises in many early North Country publications, with this particular dressing almost identical to Pritt’s earlier listing of 1885. Though largely overlooked by many of today’s North Country anglers, this unassuming Stone Midge dressing is perfect for imitating the various small midges found around the river’s slower reaches as well as small Horseflies, which lay their eggs in the river margins.
To this day, the publication of Brook and River Trouting remains to a certain degree an enigma, coming unheralded as it did during the dark days of the First World War. The standard edition’s high price tag of 30/- meant it was beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest of anglers, and with hindsight gives this provincial publication the whiff of a vanity project for the indulgence of two wealthy Bradfordians. An impression further reinforced, with the knowledge that book’s rare and valuable deluxe edition was largely given away to wealthy friends and clients.
However, the private publication of Brook and River Trouting points to something much more thoughtful than that. It is a tangible affirmation of the north’s, and particularly the city of Bradford’s, sporting and financial prosperity in a time of profound deep uncertainty. Coming as it does, before the full ravages of the conflict on the western front had extracted its pernicious toll on the social and economic landscape of a city, and indeed upon the world as a whole. Its publication brings the science and language of modernity to a school of angling that is as old as the hills and ensures that the old North Country wet fly still remains gloriously relevant even to this day. With its publication the two authors successfully built a modern manual of North Country angling and unintentionally kept for us a glimpse of the half concealed world of an angling past. A past that was quickly disappearing from view, along with a generation of their contemporary Bradfordians who lined the trenches of northern France, mustering for the future hell and slaughter of the Somme offensive.
As Oliver Edwards succinctly states in his introduction to the 1980 reprint, Brook and River Trouting is unquestionably a “working” book, and to that effect its legacy to all those who relish the dressing and fishing of the patterns contained, has diminished little in the intervening century. Like Pritt’s earlier 19th century volume, Edmonds & Lee’s Brook and River Trouting has become a mainstay for all those seeking to uphold the North Country’s fly-fishing tradition. And as such, will continued to be read and celebrated by a continuing generation of North Country anglers through the next century and beyond.
Author of The North Country Fly. Wharfedale flyfisherman and flytyer.