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Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear

Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear

The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear features one of flyfishing’s most ubiquitous dubbing materials and I can’t think of any other flytying material that is so adaptable as the fur from the Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus). For centuries it has been a staple of numerous flytying dressings with one section of its hide lending it name to some of the sports most famous fly patterns.
Charles Cotton in his contribution to Walton’s fifth edition of the Compleat Angler, gave us two early examples of the use of hare’s fur with his dressing of the Bright Dun Gnat and Fern Fly. Which respectively use white hares scut (tail) and the fur from a hare’s neck.

Bright Dun Gnat
“There is also a very little Bright-Dun Gnat, as little as can possibly be made, so little as never to be fished with, with above one ha’r nest the hook; and this is to be made of a mixed dubbing of marten’s fur, and the white of a hare’s scut, with a very white and small wing”

Fern Fly
“Next a fly called a Fern-fly; the dubbing of the fur of a hare’s neck, that is, of the colour of fern or bracken, with a darkish-gray wing of a mallard’s feather.”

Later a succession of published flytyers would build on Cotton’s legacy, and provide us with some of the most well-known fly patterns to feature the fur from various parts of the hare. Patterns such as the Gold Ribbed Hares Ear and the Hares Lug and Plover becoming some of the most widely fished fly patterns, firmly cementing the role of hare’s fur in flytying.

Quite what makes the hair fibres from a brown hare’s skin so attractive to trout and grayling is unknown. Maybe it is the subtle mix of natural hues that are evident within individual hair fibres. However, even when the fur is dyed it still has an unknown attractiveness. Which leads me to believe it is the spiky contrasting guard hairs within these mixed fibres, dyed or otherwise, that lead to the almost magical quality of this fur.

The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear dry fly gives us a great example of how a simple mixture of poll fur taken from the base of the hare’s ears can not only make a great dubbing, but more tellingly a great trout fly. Though the patterns origins are obscured by time. It was in Halford’s era, considered to be one of the best flies on the Test, and a renowned imitation of the medium olive. Although Halford was later to discard it as being too nondescript for his liking, he included the dressing in his 1886 publication Floating Flies and How To Dress ThemH.S. Hall the promoter of eyed hooks remarked of the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear: “There are times when every fish in the river seems to be bulging and ignoring flies on the surface, but I have had really good days on the Hare’s Ear floated cockily over roving fish.”

 

21. Hare’s Ear.

Hook: 0, 00 or 000.
Wings: Pale starling.
Body: Pale primrose silk.
Legs: The lightest fur from a hare’s face spun on pale yellow tylng-silk, and worked as a hackle.
Whisk: Four or five strands of a ginger cock’s-beard hackle.
Ogden’s original pattern.

22. Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.

Hook: 0 or 00
Wings: Medium or pale starling.
Body and Legs: The body is formed of dark fur from a hare’s face, ribbed with fine flat gold, and the hare’s fur picked out at shoulder to form legs.
Whisk: Red cock’s beard hackle.

 

In A Dictionary of Trout Flies Courtney Williams charges Halford with at best an inconsistency, and at worst a deliberate slight-of-hand with regards to the dressing of the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.

“Surprisingly enough Halford dressed it in this manner solely so that it might comply with his conventional dry-fly theory and with a truly magnificent disregard for what it was designed to represent. And ever since then the G.R.H.E. has been commonly tied with wings and often with another abomination – a feathered hackle. Halford was not the only guilty party as other well-known fly-dressers of his day (including Holland of Winchester and Ogden of Cheltenham) followed his example. That their flies killed well enough it true for the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear seems to attract fish however it is tied, although I am tolerably certain that dressed with wings and used as a floater, it never kills so well as in its original hackled state.”

Skues was also quizzical with regards to what fish take the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear for. And in his 1921 publication The Way of a Trout with the Fly: he was still at a lost to explain the effectiveness of the pattern, and just why hare’s fur worked so well as a dubbing.

“Why, then, should a pattern dressed with a body of a dusty grey-brown, ribbed with flat gold and extremely rough, be taken by the trout for a smooth-bodied fly with an olive-green body?”

Notwithstanding of the machinations of these blinkered chalk stream philosophers. The use of hare’s ear fur coupled with the glint of gold tinsel has long been advocated in the north of England. Where a succession of anglers and fly-dressers have been using variations on the same theme to create some of the best soft-hackled trout flies. John Kirkbride of Carlisle writing in his 1837 publication “The Northern Angler” gives us the precursor to todays Hare’s Lug and Plover with his pattern The Golden Plover, which utilises a hackle from a Golden Plover and a dubbed hare’s ear body to make one of the most successful north country spider patterns.

THE GOLDEN PLOVER FLY

This is one of our north country flies, and kills at times tolerably well on some of our rivers in April and May. When made as a winged fly the body must be of orange or yellow raw silk with a black hackle run over it up to the shoulders; the wings must be of a feather from the back or shoulders of a golden plover. The tail may be tipt with gold. When as a spider-fly, the body ought to consist of the fur from the hare’s ear, dyed yellow, rather dark; the hackle must be a small yellow-mottled feather from the back of the plover – hook, N0. 8 or 9.

Much to the probable revulsion of Halford, Williams and Skues, I fish the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear in a variety of fashions especially in the form of a weighted nymph. The nymph has like all Hare’s Ear patterns, just the right amount of nondescript about it, covering a variety of Baetis nymphs, as well as caddis larvae. It is readily taken by both trout and grayling on the rivers and streams I fish, and along with the pheasant tail, is my favourite nymph pattern to fish upstream to sighted fish.

 

Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear Nymph

Hook: Size 12, 14 & 16 Kamasan B401
Thread: Tan Uni 8/0
Underbody: Flat adhesive lead foil, doubled over at the thorax
Rib: Lagartun flat varnished tinsel
Abdomen: Poll fur taken from the base of a hare’s ear
Thorax: Dark fur taken from the form of a hare’s mask
Wing Case: Cock pheasant center tail
Tail: Hare long fibre guard hairs

Another type of the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear is the F Fly version. It is little more than the original dressing but with the addition of a CDC wing. This not only aids the fly’s floatability but also visibility, which is crucial on the turbulent Dales rivers where it is often difficult to see any fly pattern lying in the surface film. It’s a fly that covers all bases, and can be easily mistaken for a sedge or emerging nymph by hungry trout.

 

Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear F Fly

Hook: Size 14, 16 & 18 Kamasan B401
Thread: Tan Uni 8/0
Body: Poll fur taken from the base of a hare’s ear
Rib: Lagartun flat varnished tinsel
Wing: Natural grey CDC

Much to chagrin of Courtney Williams, I love fishing a fully winged and hackled Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear. There is something magical in the mixture when you add a split wing and hackle to this pattern. Like all patterns in the sequence, it looks like nothing but seems to represent everything. And although split-wing dry flies have pretty much gone out of fashion nowadays, there is an enchantment about fishing a traditional styled dry fly to a rising trout.

 

Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Dry

Hook: 14 & 16 Kamasan B401
Thread: Tan Uni 8/0
Body: Poll fur taken from the base of a Hare’s ear
Rib: Madeira fine gold braid
Wing: Starling primary slips
Tail: Hare’s mask guard fibres
Hackle: Furnace cock hackle

Hare’s Ear Comparadun

Hook: 14 & 16 Kamasan B401
Thread: Tan Uni 8/03
Body: Poll fur taken from the base of a Hare’s ear
Rib: Madeira fine gold braid
Wing: Natural brown short fibered deer hair

Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi are often quoted as the originators of the Comparadun style of dry fly with their 1975 publication Hatches. This Hares Ear comparadun pattern sits perfectly in the surface film of the river, with its splayed upright deer hair wing giving a perfect silhouette to both the trout and the angler. Like all great trout flies, the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Comparadun has a that unknown quality. It seems to our eyes to imitate nothing, but to the waiting trout, it has a mysterious appeal. And that is the conundrum at the very heart of every Hare’s Ear pattern.

Catskill Dry Flies & The Charmed Circle

Catskill Dry Flies & The Charmed Circle

I have always been fascinated by Catskill dry flies, it stretches back to my teenage years when I was given a copy of Harry Darbee’s book Catskill Flytier: My life, times, and techniques. The book was co-written by Mac Francis who later would not only build on my interest in Catskill fly patterns, but also ignite my fascination with the fabled rivers with his book, Catskill Rivers: Birthplace of American Fly Fishing.
For years I fished my native Dales rivers with recognised Catskill classic dry flies without any thought or hesitation to their effectiveness. Though born on different rivers, the patterns were supremely at home on my local waters. And no wonder, as many of the Catskill patterns have that remarkable quality of being able to cover different hatch situations.
A classic example is the Quill Gordon, probably the most famous dry fly to come out of the Catskills if not America. Though this pattern in some way owes its existence to Britain, and its originator Theodore Gordon’s correspondence with Frederick Halford, and H. G. McClelland’s publication How to Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing. In which McClelland recognized the usefulness of quill material, for small dry flies. The pattern is nevertheless the touchstone by which all American dry flies are judged, and reaches a level of sophistication never previously seen in a dry fly.
I constantly fish this pattern to rising fish, despite it being thousands of miles away from its home waters of the Catskills. The fly’s towering wood-duck wings provide a superb silhouette in bright sunlight and shadow, thus providing both angler and fish the perfect opportunity to track the fly. Its stripped quill body actively mimicking the segmented body profile of countless flies.

Quill Gordon tyed by Rube Cross

Quill Gordon

Hook: Size 12 & 14
Body: Stripped Peacock Quill
Tail: Dun hackle fibres
Wing: Wood-duck fibres
Hackle: Blue Dun cock hackle

Through the years of course I learned to adapt traditional Catskill dry flies and invent my own regional patterns based around the Catskill style. One of these was my dressing of the Olive Upright which featured the distinctive stripped quill body and wood-duck wings. Although it was primarily aimed at suggesting the Olive Uprights found on the River Wharfe, I found this pattern increasingly adaptable to numerous hatch situations where a range of native olives were on the water.

Olive Upright Catskill Style tyed by Robert Smith

Olive Upright Catskill

Hook: Size 14 & 16
Body: Stripped Peacock Quill dyed olive
Tail: Blue Dun hackle fibres
Wing: Wood-duck fibres
Hackle: Brown cock hackle with Blue Dun cock hackle wound through.

My love affair with Catskill dry flies continues to this day, and although I don’t tie and fish the Catskill style of dry fly as much as I used to. I am still captured by their simple elegance and beauty, and never stop in my quest to learn more about these iconic dry fly patterns, the region and the people who created them.

As a consequence of writing a book about my own regional patterns, I was asked to talk about the history of the North Country Flies and demonstrate aspects of their tying at this years International Fly Tying Symposium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This trip of course not only gave me the opportunity to mix with some of the world’s best fly-tyers, but also the perfect opportunity to visit some of the Catskills holiest of shrines to flyfishing and flytying through the generosity of my good friend John Shaner.

The Symposium was everything I had heard, and showcased some of the world’s best fly-tyers. With an eye on Catskill patterns I made a B-line to the table of one of the Catskill region’s acknowledged greats Dave Brandt. Dave is a font of all knowledge relating to the tying and fishing of traditional Catskill dry flies and instructs at the world famous Wulff Fly Fishing School which is situated in the heart of the Catskills at Livingson Manor. Dave was as ebullient as ever and did the great honour of sitting in on my Featured Fly-Tyer demonstration and my latter talk on the history of North Country Flies to a packed audience. His gave me some invaluable tips regarding tying the Catskill patterns and also a boxed selection of his superbly dressed flies. I have already taken onboard some of Dave’s tying tips, in particular his tip about not trimming the wing butts at a slant. But cutting them flush and then butting the tailing material up flush with them, giving a slimmer body profile.

Light Quill Cahill tyed by Robert Smith

Light Cahill Quill

Hook: Size 14 & 16
Body: Stripped Peacock Quill natural
Tail: White or cream hackle fibres
Wing: Wood-duck fibres
Hackle: White or cream cock hackles

In line with the Catskill theme, I was also honoured to spend a couple of hours visiting and speaking to Joe Fox the grandson of Mary Dette Clark, at the world famous Dette Fly Shop in Roscoe. I first visited this shop in the 1990’s and it is still a time capsule of Catskill traditions. After some retail therapy I even managed to walk away with a few Eric Leiser caddis flies.

As morning drifted into afternoon we made our way up the Little Beaverkill for a meeting with probably the greatest fly-caster and fly-casting teacher who has ever lived. I have been in awe of Joan Wulff ever since I read her book on fly casting techniques in the 1987. She was single-handedly responsible for me not abandoning flyfishing after an accident left me barely able to cast. Her book revolutionised my thoughts on casting, and with the aid of “Fly-o” got me back into the loop.
As I chatted for a couple of hours in the company of Joan and her husband Ted Rogowski, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the kindness and generosity being extended by one of our sports greatest figures to a total stranger from the other side of the world. Even in the great lady’s advancing years she was all I expected her to be, easy, graceful and as precise as her casting. As we chatted, I was guided down to Lee Wulff’s private sanctum, where many of his artefacts and belongings from a lifetime of flyfishing and film-making were kept and catalogued ready for donation to libraries and museums. Then finished with a one-to-one casting lesson in her front room!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snipe and Purple

The Snipe and Purple spider traditionally known as the Dark Snipe and Purple, is one of the most famous and widely fished of the north country flies. It first comes to prominence in Robert Lakeland’s Teesdale Angler in 1858 and is later taken up by numerous north country anglers including T.E. Pritt who includes the pattern in his 1885 publication Yorkshire Trout Flies republished a year later as North Country Flies. Here, Pritt codifies the dressing of the Dark Snipe and Purple, and stipulates the use of a snipe’s marginal over-covert feather as the hackle.

Snipe and Purple dressed in a sparsely hackled modern style.

Dark Snipe and Purple (Lakeland)

Hook: Size 14
Body: Purple silk
Hackle: Snipe over-covert

This quintessential north country fly however comes in many guises with generations of flytyers adapting this spider pattern to suit their own circumstances or flytying fancy. A classic example of this can be seen in the 1898 manuscript of Wharfedale trout flies left to us by Sylvester Lister, tenant farmer and one of the founders of the Burnsall Angling Club, now known as the Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club. Lister added a head of magpie herl to his Snipe and Purple dressing to make it more effective.

Sylvester Lister’s dressing of the Snipe and Purple, dressed with a traditional fuller hackle style.

No. 17 Dark Snipe (Sylvester Lister)

Hook: Size 16
Wings or Hackle: Speckled feather from outside of snipe’s wing
Head: Magpie herl
Silk for Body: Purple
(Note: A very good general fly. Appears about April 1st)

Later the Snipe and Purple would be adapted by Jim Wynn, river-keeper for the Bradford Waltonians Angling Club. Sadly, though much interest was stirred with the publication of Wynn’s pattern book. The examples of the flies dressed for this publication are simply dreadful and give us no real clue as to what Wynn’s ideas of the flies should be.
Jim Wynn’s use of various tinsels within the dressing of north country flies, is also nothing new, and follows a path set down by many Dales flydressers including Sylvester Lister who used tinsel to form the heads of flies.

Jim Wynn’s dressing of the Snipe and Purple.

Purple Snipe (Jim Wynn)

Hook: Size 14
Hackle: Feather taken from under snipe wing in preference to the outside wing, as used by most Yorkshire tiers.
Body: Ruddy purple silk or mulberry shade of artificial silk dubbed on to purple silk.
(Alternative dressing of purple tinsel body or silver tinsel coated with purple transparent acetate varnish)

For myself, I have moved away from the Snipe and Purple spider somewhat preferring to fish the Spring Black spider throughout most of the trout season. However, when the season is over and the autumn leaves start gather around the bows of the trees, I use my own adaptation of the pattern as a grayling fly in the autumn and winter months. Taking Sylvester Lister’s example, the fly has a herl head, this time substituting magpie herl for the bright glimmer of peacock herl. And to give the fly that extra bit of sparkle so often loved by winter grayling, I include a rib of fine silver wire. Though many could argue that my pattern is too far an adaptation from the original to warrant it being likened to the original North Country Spider, it is nevertheless owes it lineage to  Robert Lakeland’s original Dark Snipe and Purple.

My adaptation of Lister’s dressing as a grayling fly.

Purple Grayling (Robert Smith)

Hook: Size 16 & 18
Body: Dark purple silk ribbed with fine silver wire
Head: Peacock herl
Hackle: Snipe over-covert feather

 

©The Sliding Stream

California Dreaming

California Dreaming

I love American Dry Flies. For more years than I care to remember I have fished with varying degrees of success, a progression of well-known and obscure American patterns on my native dales rivers. Chief among these dry flies are three excellent patterns from Wayne “Buz” Buszek. The Float-N-Fool, Kings River Caddis and the Strawberry Roan.
A friend of mine put me on to these three winning dry fly patterns, and gave me a handful of superbly tied examples when I visited her in Fresno, California many years ago. Try as I might though, I couldn’t find any information on the patterns until I received a copy of Mike Valla’s excellent book “The Founding Flies”. Here in his book, Mike traces the history of 53 classic American flies and the three patterns pop up in his chapter on the Californian fly-tier and flyshop owner Wayne “Buz” Buszek. It was interesting to read about Buz Buszek’s influence on a generation of American flytyers such as the great Don Lieb and Jack Dennis, and no wonder. Buszek’s fly patterns have that unmistakable fish catching look about them, and have happily over the years brought huge numbers of trout and grayling to my waiting net.

Float-N-Fool

This high floating dry fly is a great terrestrial pattern to use on slow runs and glides. Here trout and grayling leisurely pick off dead or dying insects trapped in the surface film. And as late afternoon turns into early evening, the wing post and tail of white calf-tail, give this fly the added advantage of being highly visible to the angler squinting in the last hour of sunset.
It is a superb fly for casting under margins of low laying trees, its highly visible wing post of calf-tail being easily seen from some distance. I also use the Float-N-Fool as a general searching pattern in the boulder-strewn reaches of the freestone rivers and streams. The fly is highly buoyant and easy for the eye to pick up in the most turbulent of currents.

Float-N-Fool
Hook: Size 16 & 18
Thread: Uni 8/0 Black
Body: Peacock herl
Rib: Fine gold wire
Wing Post: White calf-tail
Hackle: Brown cock hackle with a grizzly cock hackle

Kings River Caddis

There is something about a good caddis pattern that just seems to stand out from the crowd, and this is one of them! Buszek’s Kings River Caddis has that unmistakeable sedge like profile and the ability to float through some of the best riffles. Reading Mike Valla’s excellent book, it is clear to see that Buszek’s Kings River Caddis is one of America’s keystone fly patterns. In that its use of folded mottled turkey quill tied in by the tip has been readily imitated by generations of later anglers. Wayne “Buz” Buszek created this fly in the 1950’s whilst fishing the Kings River in California. His idea of tying in turkey quill by its tip makes the wing less prone to splitting. And its undersized hackle allows the fly to sit lower in the surface film keeping the wing parallel with the water’s surface. I often include a CDC feather under the turkey quill to greater aid floatation and give this outstanding caddis pattern a greater kick!

Kings River Caddis
Hook: Size 12 & 14
Thread: Uni 8/0 Black
Body: Raccoon fur
Wing: Mottled brown turkey quill tied in at the tip
Hackle: Brown cock
(Anybody, seeking to dress the Kings River Caddis, will find an excellent SBS instruction from David Stenström)

Strawberry Roan

With its peacock herl body and mixed brown and grizzle cock hackles, the Strawberry Roan ticks all the boxes needed for a successful fly pattern. Indeed, so effective has this pattern been on autumn and winter grayling, a pal of mine has on more than one occasion, raided my fly-box for it, whilst I am still struggling into my waders! The fly has that “Adams” quality about it, it looks like nothing and yet imitates everything.
When fishing small tributaries and the upper reaches of the Wharfe, I have cast this diminutive Californian dry fly pattern into likely spots and have been amazed by its effectiveness.

Strawberry Roan
Hook: Size 16 & 18
Thread: Uni 8/0 Black
Body: Peacock herl
Hackle: Brown cock hackle with a grizzly cock hackle wound through
Tail: Mixed brown and grizzly cock hackles

What makes these three Wayne “Buz” Buszek flies great, is there versatility. Like all the best flies they have that undefined trigger-point. Something that appeals to trout and gives confidence to the angler. Quite how you define a “fish-catcher”, is in many ways unknown to us anglers and fly-tyers. However, these three simple Californian dry fly patterns have that undeniable quality.
©The Sliding Stream

Snipe Hackles and North Country Spiders

Snipe Hackles
(Gallinago gallinago & Lymnocryptes minimus)

Snipe hackles are synonymous with the tying of north country spiders, and have along with waterhen and partridge become for many, the very essence of what a soft-hackled spider represents. And no wonder, as various snipe hackles appear in numerous soft-hackle fly dressings from early North Country manuscripts to the modern American publications of Leisenring, Hidy and Nemes.

Yet, as with all things related to the tying of traditional north country spiders, things become complicated when we fly-tyers seek to dress patterns in accordance with traditional fly dressings. For modern tyers a snipe is simply a snipe. However, our flydressing forefathers had other ideas and used a combination of Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) hackles and the rarer Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) for their dressings. Evidence of which can be seen in the famous north country pattern the Dark Snipe and Purple, which originally prescribed a dressing of Jack Snipe overcovert and not the common snipe that is used today.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

The Common Snipe is the larger of the two species and has a generally lighter colouration. It has two neat sets of stripes down the back and prominent stripes down its head, including a pale central stripe down the crown.
Due to the nature of supply most flytying shops only offer the possibility of dressing with common snipe hackles, either through the sale of whole skins or pairs of wings. This is a pity for those seeking to dress north country spider patterns as near to their original dressings as possible, who really ought to be using hackles from the Jack Snipe.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)

The Jack Snipe or “Judcock” as it was more commonly known, is a smaller than the common snipe and has an overall darker appearance. The Judcock has a blackish purple back with striking pale yellow central stripes which are more striking than on its common cousin. The Judcock also has the central crown stripe missing from its head, shorter beak and does not have the white leading edge that is prevalent on the Common Snipe’s wing.

Snipe Hackles

Though it is fair to say it makes no difference to either trout or grayling, there are a number of subtle differences between hackles from the two birds. Generally, the secondary over-coverts of the common snipe have distinctive pale barring on the hackles which is not present in over-coverts of the jack snipe. The lesser-wing coverts are also appreciably darker on the wing of the Jack Snipe, which is where the term “Dark Snipe” comes into its own with reference to the Dark Snipe & Purple. Fortunately for those wishing to dress patterns such as the Snipe & Yellow or Snipe Bloa, there is no distinct difference in the colouration in the under-coverts of the two birds.
Snipe primaries, though now often over looked by modern fly-tyers, were also used to wing traditional patterns such as Bainbridge’s Hawthorn Fly and Yellow Dun as well as Theastone’s Tortoise Shell Beetle. Interesting they also offer a good alternative to Hen Blackbird, for those wishing to dress Greenwell’s Glory.

Common Snipe over-covert hackles
Jack Snipe over-covert hackles
Common Snipe rump hackle

As well as wing feathers, the two species of Snipe give us a range of interesting body and tail hackles which can be utilised to create various spider and soft-hackle fly patterns. The most famous example being the 8b March Brown from Edmonds & Lee’s Brook and River Trouting. This pattern uses the barred feathers taken from the common snipe’s rump to produce a distinctive and beautiful North Country Spider pattern. On a personal note, I also use a range of Common Snipe shoulder hackles to produce a couple of spider dressings for my local river, which have born some good results over the past couple of seasons.

Dark Snipe & Purple(Robert Lakeland 1858)
Hook: 0
Body: Purple silk
Hackle: Feather from the outside of a dark snipe wing

March Brown 8b (Edmonds & Lee 1916)
Hook: 2 or 3
Wings: Hackled with a mottled brown feather from a Snipe’s rump
Body: Orange silk No.6a dubbed with the 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

Cowside Spider (Smith 2015)
Hook; Size 14 Kamasan B525
Body: claret silk ribbed with fine silver wire
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Common snipe neck feather

For those wishing to dress a range of North Country spider utilising snipe hackles, you will find no better source than contacting Cookshill Fly Tying Materials,  or Jim’s Fly Company who both carry an extensive range gamebird wings and skins.
©The Sliding Stream

Grayling Flies

“Let us look at a few examples of the exploitation of the fancy fly principle. Frequently the floating artificial moves from a brightly shining surface in the shade of a tree. The dark fly that could be seen well against the light background can be easily lost when it enters a very dull area. But with the Treacle Parkin, for instance the darkish brown of the hackle and the greeny bronze glow of the body show up well where the surface is bright, while the glow of the tag can be easily detected against the dark background.”
A Case for Fancy Flies – Fishing Reflections. Reg Righyni

Treacle Parkin
Hook: Size 14 or 16
Thread: Black 8/0 Uni
Body: Peacock herl
Hackle: Natural red cock
Tag: Orangey-yellow wool

The normal accepted wisdom is that grayling move into the deeper pools and reaches, as the mists of autumn change into the crisp snap of winter. But, this is not often the case, with many grayling choosing to linger in the margins under low hanging trees and bushes. Here a plentiful supply of food drops from the canopy above, and grayling can be seen lazily sipping down this floating larder of insects. These conditions were no surprise to the famed Yorkshire angler Eric Horsfall Turner, who came up with two perfect dry flies for these conditions. The famous Eric’s Beetle, and his lesser known Grayling Fiddler which for me is one of the best grayling flies around.

Righyni’s Pool abover Burnsall

Cast under a low canopy of trees, the Grayling Fiddler takes its fair share of selective feeding grayling. It is in many respects a something and nothing pattern, and quite what grayling mistake it for is open to question. Its body of red wool often sinks into the surface film, leaving the fly’s grizzle hackle spider like of the surface.

Grayling Fiddler
Hook: Size 18
Thread: Brown
Body: Brown tying thread taken beyond the bend of the hook, dubbed with red often fluorescent wool.
Tag: Exposed tying thread

Quite what the Leeds, Wine and Spirits merchant Henry Bradshaw had in mind when he invented his fly the Bradshaw’s Fancy, is unknown. Perhaps he had undertaken a midnight tasting session in his Holbeck warehouse, before settling down for a mornings flytying. However, what he did come up with is an exceptionally good grayling fly. It can be fished as either a wet fly or a dry fly, however for me, really comes to the fore as the point fly in a team of spiders. I fish it where the fast water tumbles into the head of a pool, with grayling intercepting it as the current slows.

Bradshaw’s Fancy
Hook: 14 or 16
Thread: Purple
Body: Peacock herl
Tag: Crimson wool
Hackle: Hooded crow
Head: Crimson wool

And there you have it, three simple patterns for autumn and winter grayling that have served me well on the dales rivers, and I can heartily recommend each and every one of them. Though Czech and tungsten bead nymphs have their place and are a perfect adjunct in times of high water, the sight of a dainty unweighted fly is more visually appealing for the angler and, more tellingly, just as appealing for the waiting grayling!

Grayling Angler Reg Righyni

Woodcock Hackles & North Country Spiders

Woodcock Hackles (Scolopax rusticola)

The Woodcock is one of those quintessential North Country spider hackles, that has due to its scarcity become often overlooked by modern flydressers. However, these secretive and elusive birds offer some of the most distinctive soft-hackles suitable for tying spider patterns, and it is no coincidence that Woodcock hackles feature in many old North Country manuscripts and fly lists.

The marginal over-coverts have a distinct barred chestnut and black pattern which is often preferred for the imitation of March Browns. Whilst, the subtler pale buff-brown barred under-coverts and used for patterns such as the Winter Brown.

The first references to the use of Woodcock hackle regarding spider dressings can be found in James Pickard’s manuscript of 1794, where he lists the Winter Brown.

Winter Brown (James Pickard 1794)
Orange silk legged wi feather or neb of wood cock sholder. Harled at head wi peacock.

Later the woodcock’s range of hackles come to be utilised by an expanding list of North Country anglers and flydressers, and patterns such as the Green Tail, Grey Midge and Hackle Duel Cruik come to be developed around the use of the Woodcock’s distinctive plumage.

Green Tail (Jon Pickard 1820)
Ask coulored silk, Feather the inside of a woodcock wing, peacock herl in the head. Hares face for the legs, light green silk the tail.

Hackle Duel Cruik (Tim Thackray)
Body: Yellow and orange silk with the brown fur from a fox’s ear
Hackle: An outside feather from a woodcock’s wing

Except for the Brown Owl (Strix aluco) over-covert, and Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) back feathers, Woodcock over-covert is my favourite soft-hackle for use on North Country Spiders. Its distinct barred chestnut and black pattern enhance any spider pattern and give the fly a lifelike impression. My own dressing the Woodcock Twist, was developed for fishing in rocky streams when egg laying and spinners, of the Large Brook Dun float down through riffles and pocket waters.

Woodcock Twist (Robert Smith)
Hook: Size 12 Daiichi 1480
Silk: Light Olive and Brown silk
Body: Brown silk sparsely dubbed with fox ear fur and wrapped in tandem with the light olive silk to produce segmented look.
Hackle: Woodcock over-covert

For those wishing to dress a range of North Country spider utilising Woodcock feathers, you will find no better source than contacting Cookshill Fly Tying Materials, who carry an extensive range gamebird wings and skins.
©The Sliding Stream

John Atherton Dry Flies

John Atherton Dry Flies

Although to some it would seem rather strange to begin an article on fly-tying with a long discourse on the merits of modern art and the Impressionist Movement. However, the fly patterns designed and dressed by John Atherton owe their very existence to the impressionist’s pallet and the aesthetics of his art, and as such his life as a painter requires some of our attention.

Born on the 7th June 1900 in Brainard, Minnesota. Atherton moved to San Francisco in 1920, to study at the College of the Pacific and The California School of Fine Art. After graduating he sharpened his artistic skills in various West-Coast art studios of the time, and exhibited numerous paintings.

In 1929 during the annual exhibition at the Bohemian Club he won the $500 fourth prize, a win that part financed his move to New York, a move which would become the turning point of his flourishing artistic career. Arriving during a period of boom in the New York advertising industry, Atherton started to undertake commissions for companies such as General Motors and Shell Oil, and illustrated covers for magazines such as Fortune, Holiday, and The Saturday Evening Post.

In 1938 he would go on to hold his first one man exhibition at the Julian Levy Gallery in Manhattan, and later in 1943 at the “Artist for Victory” show, his painting The Black Horse won fourth prize and now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now a successful commercial and fine-art painter Atherton moved to Arlington, Vermont, where beside the flowing currents of the Battenkill River he would increasingly focus his artist’s eye on the subject of fly-tying, finding a hobby that would afford him relaxation, whilst also fulfilling his creative urge.

“For me, the change of pace from the picture, which is two dimensional, to the fly of three dimensions offers the variety of a great hobby. Tying flies, like painting, is a constant series of experiments. It has been fascinating, over the years, to apply the creative urge to an object which may catch a trout as well as afford the satisfaction of invention.”

Rather than seeing insects in the form of solid shapes and colours, Atherton took this lead from the impressionist painters, and broke down the image of a natural fly into small spots of pure tones, in order to effectively replicate the effects of light on and through the body of the natural insect. These thoughts and distillations lead him to design and dress wonderfully creative fly patterns and set down his rational and insight, into his classic work The Fly and the Fish, published in 1951 a year before his untimely death.

“If you will look closely at a live dun (not one in a specimen bottle) you will observe that his coloring is “impressionistic.” It is built up of many tiny variations of tone such as we find in the paintings of Renoir, Monet and others of the impressionistic school of art.”

As an artist, Atherton knew instinctively how the intelligent use of colour could give life to a painting and likewise to the body of a fly. He selected and used his dubbings with the same discriminating manner as he choose and used his paints, blending various tones and shades of fur to form and overall impression of life within the fly dressing. He shunned wool and silk bodies in favour of natural furs, and particularly liked the use of seal’s fur due to its soft silhouette and translucent sheen, often mixing it with other softer furs such as fox belly to aid its dubbing quality. He knew instinctively that his choice of underlying tying silks must complement and harmonize with the construction of his fur bodies, stating this in a passage that is reminiscent of the words of Yorkshire’s Edmonds & Lee.

“Lightly spun dubbing is translucent and frequently the silk will show through. Impressionistic color effects can be achieved by combining analogues or complementary colors together, depending on the desired effect. An interesting combination using complimentary colors together is to spin light blue gray dubbing on primrose yellow tying silk. Particularly when wet, this results in a lovely, elusive olive tint, reminiscent of natural insect coloration.”

His patterns were purposely ribbed with gold oval tinsel instead of fine wire, of which he found became lost within the mixed loose hairs of his fly’s dubbings.

 

Atherton Dry Flies dressed by Rob Smith ©Rob Denson

Likewise, he took the same care in the choice and use of winging materials, favouring hackle points or Bali, wood and mandarin duck flank feathers tied in the “Catskill” style for wings. A style of winging that he purposely choose in order to break up the outline of the fly and achieve a more lifelike appearance than the often used heavy lifeless wing slips of the period.

Like all fly-tyers of that period, Atherton found it particularly difficult to acquire suitable hackles of the right quality, requiring not just the right colouration but more importantly stiffness. He famously exchanged one of his own paintings worth thousands of dollars for a cock cape in order to dress some flies.

“To obtain the proper color is one thing, but to find both color and quality –stiffness- is rare indeed. We all live in hope that by some strange turn of fortune we shall become the possessor of the ideal neck, the color neither too light nor too dark, the suggestion of red in the dun of the exact proportion, and the stiffness dangerous to our fingers. It is something we can dream of to the end of our lives as it will undoubtedly be still a dream even then.”

To hackle his impressionist patterns Atherton favoured cross-breed or variegated barred hackles which allowed him to instantaneously achieve subtle variations of shade with just the wrap of a single hackle, thus achieving the right multi shade appearance of the wings silhouette. When this was not possible, Atherton followed the tried and tested Catskill method of wrapping two shades of hackle together to achieve the his aim of an impressionistic look to the hackle.

“We can also obtain good color combinations by using two hackles of different colors in order to get a mixed look. When, for example, one cannot obtain good cree hackle, which is grizzly or Plymouth Rock hackle with considerable buf, ginger or red in it, a good approximation can be made using one grizzly hackle and one ginger or red hackle wound together. Badger combine well with ginger, red or dun and furnace or coch-y-bondhu mixes well with dun or grizzly. Once the angler sees how much more “buggy” his flies look with these mixed materials I am sure he will tie his new patterns and fish with considerably more confidence.”

Atherton No.1 Dry Fly dressed by Rob Smith. © Rob Denson

No. 1
Tail: Pale Dun barbules.
Body: Very pale cream fox-belly fur, ribbed with narrow oval tinsel.
Wings: Hackle points from a light, glassy natural dun.
Hackle: Very light cree, or a pale ginger and one light grizzly hackle wound so as to mix the colors.
Hook Sizes: 16, 14, 12.


No. 2

Tail: Light brassy or rusty dun hackle barbules or a mixture of light ginger and light dun
Body: Light buff or pale tan fox-belly fur mixed with natural seal’s fur and a small amount of hare’s ear, ribbed with narrow oval gold tinsel.
Wings: Wood duck, light.
Hackle: One light cree and one medium dun hackle
Hook Sizes: 16, 14, 12.


No. 3

Tail: Medium cree hackle barbules or a mixture of ginger and grizzly.
Body: Natural seal’s fur mixed with bright yellow seal’s fur, fox belly fur dyed yellow or dyed mohair. The color should be a light yellow but not too strong and should have a mixed look.
Wings: Wood duck. I originally tied this wing with medium dun hackle points but recently changed to wood duck. Both materials are good, however, and the dressing can be adapted to local requirements.
Hackle: Light rusty dun, or one ginger and one medium dun hackle.
Hook Sizes: 16, 14, 12.


No. 4

Tail: Cree hackle barbules, or a mixture of ginger and grizzly.
Body: Naturally seal’s fur mixed with dyed red seal, a little hare’s ear and a little muskrat fur. The color should be a grayed, mixed pink. Ribbed with narrow oval gold tinsel.
Wings: Wood duck preferably, or light-colored mandarin speckled side feathers.
Hackle: A mixture of one cree hackle and one medium natural dun.
Atherton’s Remarks: This fly will approximate certain pink-bodied naturals, and is even useful for some o the spinners with pink or reddish bodies.
Hook Sizes: 16, 14, 12.


No. 5

Tail: Dark cree, or a mixture of red brown and grizzly.
Body: Hare’s ear, using the short speckled hairs on the ear and the pinkish tan hair at the base of the ears. It should have a decided mixed “buggy” look. Ribbed with fine narrow oval tinsel.
Wings: Mandarin or wood duck.
Hackle: Dark cree or a mixture of red-brown and grizzly.
Hooks Sizes: 18, 16, 14, 12, 10.
Atherton’s Remarks: This fly is the most generally useful of the group.


No. 6

Tail: dark rusty dun hackle barbules.
Body: A mixture of dark muskrat or mole and some red-brown fur such as dyed seal’s fur, to get a body of a brownish grey color, rather dark. Ribbed with narrow oval gold tinsel.
Wings: This wing can be varied somewhat but my preference is for Bali duck side feathers. I also use bronze mallard and dark mandarin.
Hackle: A natural rusty dun, or one fairly dark natural dun and one red brown hackle mixed together,
Hooks Sizes:18, 16, 14, 12.


No. 7

Tail: Very dark dun or black hackle barbules
Body: Very dark. I frequently use black tying silk, making a very short body.
Wings: None
Hackle: None
Hook Sizes: 18, 20, 22.
Atherton’s Remarks: This fly is designed for use when trout are feeding on midges or very small flies, as so often occurs on the “flats” during the evening.

In creating his own series of dry flies Atherton took a profound shift away from the accepted norm of trying to imitate a specific species of insect with each individual pattern, and instead developed his own validation towards the dressing of trout flies. Atherton’s own dry fly patterns listed in his book, not assembled in order of species imitated, but is instead grouped in order of a colour graduation from light to dark. To my mind this marks John Atherton out as true visionary, in preference to loading his fly-box with numerous wildly differing patterns of style and colour; he instead created a series of patterns that in reality almost blended into one. These seven dry fly patterns were designed to imitate a wide variety of up-winged flies from subimago to spinner. The vagaries of different insect hatches on different rivers didn’t hold any terrors, as he had created a small series of dry patterns that covered a multitude of possibilities, and all brought to life through the axiom of his art. A testament to the effectiveness of his patterns can be seen in his remarks about pattern No5.

Dry fly dressed by John Atherton courtesy of Mike Valla

“No. 5 is the best fly in the group. It has stood up over many years as the best “general” fly I have used. It is good in all kinds of water, and in all sizes. It killed extremely well on landlocked salmon in Maine and on all varieties of trout in the West as well as in the East. If I could have only one fly of conventional design it would be this fly. It is really astonishing how many hatches can be imitated by this fly, even though to the eye it seems to be too dark for some. But the tout take it well, so I will not question why and only conjecture that it may be because of its slightly greater “solidity,” a sort of “accent” among real duns.”

There is no doubt that Atherton’s impressionistic stance towards the creation of a series of dry flies firmly marks him out as one of our sport’s true visionaries. His fundamental goal was to create flies that exhibited the appearance of life, and in this quest he called upon his entire painter’s knowledge of the interaction between light and colour, to create seven stunning dry flies.

Sadly, however, Atherton’s legacy and influence on a world of fly-tying was regretably diminished by his untimely death in 1952. His wife the artist Maxine Breeze remarked that Atherton had said many times that he hoped his final day would be spent in his waders. Sadly on September 15th whilst on a salmon fishing trip to New Brunswick, Canada, John Atherton drowned whilst fishing. Later his ashes were buried by his wife Maxine and friends Walter Squires and Lee Wulff under a small maple tree overlooking his favourite pool on his beloved Battenkill River.
Though now largely forgotten by the fly-tying mainstream, the various patterns of John Atherton show us just how fascinating the art of dressing a fly is. We are all intrinsically studying the same questions. However, gloriously we individually arrive at differently beautiful answers.

John Atherton

First published in Trout & Salmon
©The Sliding Stream

Seven North Country Spiders For A Season

It could be said that in 1916 with the publication of Edmonds and Lee’s Brook and River Trouting, fishing with North Country Spiders and the North Country school of fly-fishing was pretty much at its zenith. The Dales-rivers were yet to be blighted by the onset of modern farming practices and the insidious use of pesticides and fertilisers. The motor car, although still in its infancy, afforded wealthy anglers the opportunity of good access to many rivers without the crowds and traffic problems of today. Even the scourge of moorland gripping which would later have such devastating effects on our Dales rivers was yet to feature on the drawing boards of the men from the ministry.

In the early days of the last century the old classics of northern angling literature such Theakston, Jackson and Pritt, though still relevant were, however, starting to be challenged by an up and coming breed of modern angler. Fly patterns, that were once considered essential, were beginning to be discarded as the new generation sort to streamline the number of patterns needed on the Dales-rivers. Old favourites and duplicates were consigned to the dustbin of history, as anglers recognised there was simply no need to carry the vast catalogue of patterns of say Theakston, Jackson or even Pritt.

Edmonds and Lee were clearly at the vanguard of this movement, as the two authors’ motivation seems to have been to both modernise, and streamline, the numbers of flies carried by the northern angler. Examples of the two authors’ modern thinking can be seen in the correspondence between Harfield Edmonds and G.E.M. Skues, indeed several of the patterns included within Brook and River Trouting such as the 8b March Brown were given to Edmonds by Skues. Along with these Skues patterns, Edmonds and Lee also introduced several modern pattern interpretations of already established favourites, whilst at the same time pruning the superfluous duplicates found in the works of their predecessors such as Pritt.

For today’s modern angler, the often the simple beauty of the North Country patterns blinkers the entomological reasoning behind the patterns existence. So it is well to point out that these simple patterns are steeped in centuries of entomological reasoning, with many patterns devised by keen angler-naturalists. Although T.E. Pritt, for many, the leading figure of North Country school, included several patterns from keen amateur entomologists so as Theakston and Jackson. He nevertheless, mistakenly believed there was no entomology behind the patterns. And it was not until the publication of Brook and River Trouting, that Edmonds and Lee firmly put entomology back at the heart of our relationship with the North Country wet fly, and further Pritt’s process of rationalisation.

However, even today we need to ask ourselves whether there is a need for another streamlining of patterns. And can the angler suitably cover all the four major insect groups found on our dales rivers with under a dozen patterns. The answer is of course an emphatic Yes! If a careful consideration and selection is made, it is possible to cover all hatch and fall situations with just seven carefully chosen patterns.

North Country Spiders

Of course any form of fly selection ultimately comes down to a matter of personal choice, and all anglers will have their own favourites that are always found on the cast, no matter what the hatch situation. However, with the following seven patterns I am confident of covering all eventualities on the freestone Dales rivers.

Black Magic
A clear example of the ever changing and forward thinking nature of the “North Country” school, can be seen with this relatively modern pattern, invented in the late 1960s by Frederick Mould. This pattern is quite simply one of the best trout flies ever invented, and was devised by Mould for use on his frequent trips up from Oxford to fish the Bradford Waltonians’ beats of the River Wharfe in the 1960s. These prime beats originally stretched from the old bridge below Bolton Abbey and down to the village of Addingham, and were for many years under the stewardship of the local river-keeper Jim Wynn, himself an inventor of many novel trout and grayling pattern.

It is on these beats that Mould found himself in a quandary as to how he could effectively imitate the large numbers of black gnats and midges that he found in the slow back eddies during the summer months. His Black Magic pattern fitted the bill perfectly, and is today without doubt one of the most effective diptera imitations there is. From March through till October and, even into the serious grayling months of winter this North Country Spider pattern covers a multitude of tiny black flies when it is dressed in the appropriate small sizes. During the high summer months when our freestone rivers are at an all-time low, and trout seem extraordinarily difficult to tempt, Mould’s Black Magic often saves the day, either fished singularly or as the top dropper in a team of three. I’ve simply lost count of how many times this pattern has saved me from the ignominy of a blank day.

Later on in the year as the memory of the trout season fades into the November mists and the frosted grass crackles under my feet. I give this fly a flash of fine red tinsel ribbing, which beguiles grayling on into the harder frosts of a Dales’ winter.

Black Magic
Hook – Sizes 16, 18 & 20
Body – Black Uni-Thread
Thorax – Peacock Herl over fine red wire
Hackle – Black Hen

Winter Brown
For the angling historian this pattern is a confusing one and arguments can rage over whether the Brown Owl and the Winter Brown are in fact just variations of the same fly. Curiously, in early fly lists and manuscripts the Brown Owl and Winter Brown are often twinned together, which could point to one being a variant of the other. Which came first is hard to tell, however the first known mention of both patterns dates back to James Pickard’s 1794 Wharfedale fly list of north country spiders.

However, it is T.E. Pritt in his 1886 publication “Yorkshire Trout Flies” that the division between the Winter Brown and Brown Owl clearly starts to widen, and the dressing of the Winter Brown starts to utilise the under-covert feather of the woodcock. Earlier lists and manuscripts make no mention of whether the feather used was either a under or over-covert, so it is possible that the original Winter Brown was dressed with the over-covert of a Woodcock which has the same chestnut hues as that of a Tawny Owl over-covert found in the Winter Brown. It is following Pritt’s publication that the two patterns become wholly separate, and the confusion regarding the lineage of these patterns stems. So much so that 30 years later, Edmonds and Lee repeat Pritt’s example and seek to divide the two patterns entomologically to be imitations of trichoptera and perlidae respectively. However, the good old Winter Brown happily covers a vast number of needle, stoneflies and sedges, and is a good point fly that can be used all season long. Although it is generally thought of as a Spring and Autumn pattern, I have nevertheless found the Winter Brown to work well throughout the whole of the season, particularly in the months of May and June when needle and stonefly hatches are at their peak on the Wharfe and Ure.
I never like to see the exposed tying silk that is sometimes seen on poorly dressed examples. And so I dress this pattern by wrapping the peacock herl head first, before moving on to wrapping the hackling, forming the silk body, and then whip finishing directly behind the woodcock hackle

Winter Brown
Hook – Sizes 14 & 16
Body – Orange silk
Head – Peacock Herl
Hackle – Woodcock over-covert

March Brown
Many years ago when I was nobbut a lad, I attended a Fly Dressers Guild meeting at which two famously grumpy Yorkshiremen where almost coming to blows over the merits of imitating the March Brown on Yorkshire’s rivers. One side rather forcefully stated that the true March Brown was not found in Yorkshire and so could not be actively represented by this fly pattern. Whether the population of true March Browns is both large and widespread enough to fully justify the entomological reasons for this pattern version I will leave up in the air. However, it is well to point out that the River Tees has long been known to have healthy populations of the true March Brown. And as the River Tees forms Yorkshire’s traditional boundary with County Durham, we could therefore argue that half of the river along with its insect populations fall within Yorkshire!

However, from a fishing point of view I stand in the affirmative camp. This version of the March Brown is a suitable imitation of not only March Browns but also Large Brook Duns, of which there are healthy and widespread populations and also at a pinch various sedges.

Though this dressing first came to prominence with Edmonds and Lee’s publication, it is in fact a pattern originating from J.W. Reffitt’s fly list. Reffitt was a close friend of Pritt and a fellow member of the Kilnsey Angling Club and along with Pritt, a co-founder of the Yorkshire Fly Fishers Club. During the late 1890s Reffitt became acquainted with G.E.M. Skues, and gave the dressing and some tied examples to Skues, who equally did the same through later correspondence with Harfield Edmonds. This Reffitt dressing of the March Brown gives us a classic example of how various patterns in Edmonds and Lee’s publication were influenced by both the ancient and modern thinking. And in the case of March Brown 8b, both philosophies at the same time!

I rate this pattern very highly and would happily fish it every day of the season, its snipe rump hackle dances and quivers with the currents flow, and prove a very enticing lure to trout. During a couple of memorable July days on the Wharfe below the hamlet of Drebley, this version of the March Brown just seemed to beguile every trout it was cast to. Fished as a point fly up through the boulder-strewn pocket water, that is such a feature of this famous beat, it brought up trout from everywhere with unfailing regularity.

March Brown
Hook – Sizes 14 & 16
Body – Orange silk dubbed with rabbit fur dyed a reddish orange
Rib – Fine gold wire
Hackle – Snipe rump
Tail – Snipe rump fibres

Waterhen Bloa
In my opinion this is simply one of the finest trout flies ever devised and is rightly at the heartbeat of all North Country fly-fishers consciousness. Mistakenly, some anglers believe the Waterhen Bloa is only a fly for the early season, and simply fail to appreciate the patterns effectiveness all season long. Let’s be clear, the Waterhen Bloa imitates not just Large Dark Olives but a vast array of other adult baetis, and when dressed in the appropriate sizes it will take trout and grayling on every day of the year, no matter what conditions.
Although, modern convention is to dress many North Country patterns with just a ghosting of dubbing, it was not always thus. And any detailed look through ancient manuscripts and fly lists shows the patterns to be more heavily dubbed than is now the acceptable norm, indeed even the hackling was of a more dense fashion than is now the case. It would be interesting to see how North Country patterns dressed in the true traditional way fared with today’s trout, I doubt whether there would be any appreciable difference in catch rates. However, this pattern is significantly improved with the meagreness of dubbing.

A good trick when trying to achieve a sparsely dubbed body is to strip all the fur form a mole skin and keep it in a small tub. Then after you have suitably waxed your silk, just touch-dub the silk with the mole fur. Wrap the silk in tight touching turns and then if there is still too much dubbing for your liking, simply use your thumb nail to remove the excess.

Like Mould’s Black Magic, the Waterhen Bloa also lends itself to being fished singularly to trout feeding on emergers. Often, when the trout have fooled me in to thinking they are taking dries, but are refusing every offer, my brain clicks into gear and I snip off the offending dry and tie on a Waterhen Bloa with instant success. This pattern gives the perfect impression of an emerging olive struggling to break free from the surface tension of the stream. And as such when fished as part of a traditional team of three north country spiders, convention dictates it to be positioned on top dropper, where floating down in the surface film, it again looks every inch an emerging or crippled dun, and regularly entices even the weariest of trout.

Waterhen Bloa
Hook – Sizes 12, 14, 16 & 18
Body – Yellow silk dubbed with mole fur
Hackle – Waterhen/Moorhen under-covert

Orange Partridge
Along with the Waterhen Bloa and the Dark Snipe and Purple, the Orange Partridge forms the North’s holy trinity of north country spider patterns. Although some authorities have suggested that this old pattern is a simple variation of the old Wharfedale Brown Watchet pattern, minus the herl head. The reality is however something quite different, with early lists of Wharfedale flies never featuring the Orange Partridge until Pritt’s publication of 1886. It seems Pritt took his inspiration to include the Orange Partridge from Henry Wade’s “Halcyon” published in 1861. And although Wade was himself a Yorkshireman, the pattern more probably originates from County Durham, where Wade lived, worked and fished.

Like many of the North Country wet fly patterns, the Orange Partridge has the ability to effectively cover several hatch and fall situations in one go, which in turn adds to its popularity amongst anglers. Although Pritt preferred to fish this pattern on the Dropper, the reality is that no matter where the pattern is place within the team, it is a marvellous fly. Sadly over the past decade or so, some fly-dressers have become somewhat fixated in regards to the correct shade of orange silk to use for this pattern. And here again convention and reality becomes somewhat confused. This stipulation by some in regards to the correct silk shade has no historical basis in fact, as various ranges of orange shades were used throughout the years by many different anglers and fly-dressers. It is not until Edmonds and Lee’s publication of 1916 that a standardisation of silk shades was sort in regards to the various North Country patterns.

Orange Partridge
Hook – Sizes 12, 14, 16 & 18
Body – Orange silk
Hackle – English partridge, the brown speckled feather taken from the middle of the back.

Fish just seemed to be mesmerised by this pattern, taking it at on nearly every third or fourth cast. As the late evening sun turned the rivers surface to a pink blush and increasing numbers of trout could be seen leisurely sipping down emergers and crippled duns. Blades’ July Dun fished singularly to these rising trout worked its magic. In the evenings of summer months, when used as part of a team, I generally use it on the 1st dropper with the Orange Partridge on the point and the Black Magic as a top dropper. That way I cover the caenis and spurwing hatches and the Orange Partridge and Black Magic covers various returning spinners and black-fly.

July Dun
Hook – Sizes 16 & 18
Body – Straw or very light coloured silk
Thorax – Peacock herl
Hackle – Fieldfare rump (I use hackles from a stuffed Fieldfare purchased from Ebay. However, a suitable alternative is Coot over-covert or California Quail neck feather)

Yorkshire Greenwell
Many years ago, more than I care to mention in fact, I met an old dales angler on the riverbank just below Mucker on the River Swale. As all passing anglers do, we discussed the fishing and what the trout were taking. Up until that day I was rather dismissive of this great old pattern, mainly due to the poor quality of the hitherto flies I had seen up to that point.

Nevertheless, as the old angler open his fly-box and gave me a couple of his flies, he remarked “Greenwell is the only fly you’ll need lad, use it every day of the season when the olives and on” as I looked at his flies rather sceptically and thought “Funny looking Greenwell”. These were I later found out a traditional Yorkshire variation on the good canons famous pattern using woodcock slips for the wings instead of blackbird. Logically, the mottled tones of the woodcock slips should not represent the grey wing shades of various olives. However, this pattern does work and like all North Country wet flies, it really comes into its own when through pacey water such as riffles and runs. The hackle, while dressed quite sparse should nevertheless be quite long and extend about 5mm beyond the point of the hook bend when wet.

Ever since that chance encounter in the late nineteen eighties this variation on the Greenwell has always occupied a prominent place in my fly-box, and has accounted for thousands of trout over the intervening years. Sadly, I never met that old dales angler again or ever found out his name. However, a couple of years ago whilst researching North Country flies and anglers for a forthcoming publication. I chanced to find references to William Greenwell and Swaledale. For twenty years before returning to take up his duties at Saint Mary-The-Less, Durham. William Greenwell was a curate without parish and lived in Brampton-On-Swale and the surrounding area, no doubt taking the opportunity to fish this beautiful dales river.

Yorkshire Greenwell
Hook – Sizes 14 & 16
Body – Yellow coloured silk well waxed to an olive shade or Pearsall amber silk and ribbed with fine gold wire
Wings – Woodcock wing slips
Hackle – Coch-y-Bonddu or Furnace hen

And there we have my “Magnificent Seven North Country Spiders” for a season’s fishing on the dales rivers. No doubt some will question my selection and be quick to mention several of the famous patterns I have let out. Nevertheless, these seven patterns have been the basis of my season’s fishing for more years than I care to remember. And having stripped my fly-box of the superfluous, I feel this canon of patterns will ably cover any situation on the freestone rivers of the dales. Give them a try, you might just find yourself stripping down and reorganising your flybox.

©The Sliding Stream

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