Where did the 'special' flies for Atlantic salmon come from?
Having researched many flies for this section, the
question finally drove me to find an answer. The history
is muddy, but through it there are several books and
references to Spey and Dee flies which both take their
names from the respective rivers where the gillies tied
flies specifically for their river. The Spey and Dee flies
have differences which have to do with placement and attitude
of the various parts to make the fly behave in a particular
desired way in either of those famous rivers. In the mid
1800s, those flies lost favor, and eventually re-appeared
in a vast array of patterns, not designed for those rivers,
but for rivers in other regions and countries - including
the USA. During the Victorian era, the gaudy salmon flies
we associate with Atlantic Salmon Flies developed, with the
notion Atlantic salmon ate butterflies. That idea has been
discarded, while there is still some belief salmon continue
to eat their favorite foods while at sea (shrimp), actual
shrimp flies are a later development of what seems to be
the earliest of salmon flies - the Grub. Historians believe
Grub flies and the Spey and Dee flies came into being at
about the same time.
Whether Atlantic salmon eat during their spawning run, or
strike for whatever reason, the early Grub flies worked.
There is some thought however that in those early years of
the 1800s there was so little pressure on the fish (including
the lack of any commercial fishing), no pollution to
contend with, and absolute huge numbers of fish, making
it nearly impossible not to catch large numbers
of fish on any fly.
Whatever the reason, the Grub flies were very successful
and spread to waters outside the UK. According to
Shrimp & Spey Flies for Salmon & Steelhead,
"Flies such as the Moisse Grub were recorded in Canada as
early as 1887 and their use in Norway is also well documented.
Later, in the chapters on shrimp flies worldwide, you will
find shrimp patterns from Sweden and Norway, such as the
Chillimps and Ullsock, which are directly based on the shape
and tying style of the early grub flies. In Denmark, a whole
range of modern sea-trout patterns such as the Omoe Brush,
the Dalby Dribbler and the Umbrella, are also clearly based
on the style of the Grubs."
The modern fly tier can readily see the various steps
being created which carried on to the more spectacular
patterns we recognize as the fancy flies we call Atlantic
Salmon flies today.
Credits: Photo and quoted section from: Shrimp & Spey Flies for Salmon & Steelhead, by Chris Mann and Robert Gillespie, published by Stackpole Books in the USA and simultaneously in the UK by Merlin Unwin Books.
Tag: Gold tinsel and scarlet seal's fur.
Rear Hackle: Golden Pheasant tippet wound as hackle followed by a furnace hackle.
Rear Body: Green Berlin wool.
Centre Hackle: Golden Pheasant tippet wound as hackle followed by a furnace hackle.
Front Body: Green Berlin wool.
Front Hackle: Golden Pheasant tippet wound as hackle followed by a furnace hackle.
Note: Hackles increase in size towards head. ~ DLB