Favorite Flies and Their Histories by
Mary Orvis Marbury, has a very complete history of the Red Hackle,
which may be the very first recorded fly. What follows are just
a few of the selected passages from that history.
"Fly-fishing is a most ancient, and, as the ever-moderate Walton
claims for it, "a most virtous pastime." We find suggestions of its
pursuance by men of all stations in all times, and it may be interesting
to some to know how one little fly has held its name and form from
century to century.
"Empires have risen and fallen; cities been built, lived in, and
crumbled to dust; continents discovered, populated, and grown old in
wealth and culture; human ingenuity has conquered space, and the knowledge
of new inventions has sped round the world to the aid of all men; unknown
forces have been made familiar, and now light our ways, warm, feed, speak
for us, and convey us where we will; but in all these strides we who
fish have carried with us, and handed on and on down through the ages,
the tiny "bonny red heckle."
Over two hundred years before Christ, theocritus wrote of fishing with
"the bait of fallacious suspended from the rod," but
failed to tell of its color or method of construction. Who first
thought to substitute feathers for the delicate gauze-like wings of
insects, and bind them to hooks, outlining in shape the ephemera of
the streams, we do not know; but in the third century after Christ
AElian writes as follows....They fasten red (crimson red) wool round
a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grew under a cock's
wattles, and which in color are like wax...
This is our first recorded description of the "canny red heckle" so
often after to be tosed with eager watchfulness into "the current's
The fly shows up again in the writings of a Benedictine nun described
as: "In the begynning of Maye a good flye, the body of roddyd wull and lappid
abowte wyth blacke silke; the wynges of the drake of the redde capons
"So again we record of the Red Hackle of the Macedonian fishermen. The
knowledge of the old, peaceful pastime drifts on for two centuries more,
and then Izaak Walton...Walton instructs his pupil Viator in the use
of twelve special flies. The fourth, or the "ruddy fly," is to be
used "in the beginning of May." "The body made of red wool wrapt
about with black silk, and the feathers are the wings of the drake; with
the feathers of the red capon also, which hang dangling on its sides next
to the tail."
"Twenty-two years later, Charles Bottom wrote his treatise on "The Art
of Fly-fishing," submitted it to his "Father" Izaak Walton, who
affectionately approved the discourse of his adopted son." Cotton wrote
the second part of the Complete Angler, with detailed explanations
regarding the making of artificial flies...and the bonny red hackle
appears again, under the name of Plain or Palmer Hackle and the
"Times were more peaceful now, and books more frequent. The little
fly held its own until two hundred years more had rolled by, and
then we are given beautiful engravings of it, many of them colored by
hand, and later exquisitely lithographed. In one book - A Quaint
Treatyse on Flies and the Art of Artificiale Flee Making - we
may see the fly itself on medallions inserted in the pages, with the
materials for its construction, so that today we need not fear losing the
formula. The original materials, "redde wulle and a capon's hackle,"
are yet used. Sometimes all the hackle is wound in at the head of the
fly, when it is called simply a Red Hackle; but when the hackle is wound
the entire length of the body it is "a palmer." The red coat or body
of the fly suggested the distinction of soldier palmer,"
but either fly, the "bonny red hackle" or the "soldier palmer," can boast
the oldest record of any fly known and used today."
As dressed by Mary Orvis Marbury
Credits: Quoted text from Favorite Flies and
Their Histories, published by Lyons Press.
Fly photo and dressing from Forgotten Flies, published by Complete
Body: Red Floss.
Rib: Oval gold tinsel.