It took until 1975 before the Matuka style fly became
popular in the USA and the rest of the world. A 'Streamer'
(historically, belonging to the American East Coast),
is basically a fly with saddle hackle feathers tied
in at the head only. A 'Matuka' is in theory, the same
fly with feathers stripped in a particular way but bound
to the shank, usually with wire. The binding of the feather
to the shank reduces the built-in motion of the fly,
so when fishing a 'Matuka,' you will not have the same
liveliness of a streamer unless you impart more action to
the fly. Nevertheless, the 'Matuka' style flies have
their own unique qualities, the fish seem to like
them, that's for sure.
Some suggest it was one of the many Maori anglers
who first tied the first 'Matuka.' Necessity is the
mother of invention and it may be that the person
who made the first 'Matuka' style fly, may have
done so for a purpose. That purpose being to
eliminate the problem of the long hackle wing
twisting around the gape of a hook while casting.
Mr. Alfred Henry Chaytor was born on a sheep station
in New Zealand's South Island. At the age of fifteen
he set sail for schooling England. In 1910 he
published the angling classic, Letters to a Salmon
Fishers Sons published by Methuen of London. He
was working as a solicitor when the First World War broke
out. Invalided by war service in 1916, fighting in France,
he returned home to New Zealand for convalesce. His
health soon improved and a dose of outdoor air and
North Island sunshine was prescribed. Obeying Doctors
orders, he fished around Lake Tarpo and Rotorua as his
Some fourteen years later in 1930 he wrote, Essays
Sporting and Serious, published by Methuen of
London. In this Chaytor mentions the early 'Matuka'
he had seen at Lake Tarpo. I quote:
'a thin red body with a long over wing of mottled
buff-brown bittern's feather, called the Matuka,
the Maori name for the bittern. These flies were
dressed by a good fisherman, who had the luncheon
room at Hamurana...The body is thin, and either red
or light blue, and is dressed on a hook about an inch
long; the wing is very narrow, and about an inch and
a half long and there is no hackle, merely body and
wing. The long thin mottled buff wing of bittern's
feather is supposed to represent one of the small
'inanga', a local fish something resembling tiny
loaches but swimming about in a jerky way, and great
numbers of them could be seen in the shallows around
Australasian Bittern - Botaurus poiciloptilus
Bittern feathers have irregular barred markings, which
when wet, give a fly a similar appearance to one of the
small fish. The 'Matuka' manner of dressing also gives
the fly a very fishy appearance, the top of the wing
characterising a dorsal fin. The actual feather fibres
are soft and mobile, giving the fly a natural living
look. The bird's plumage is so thickly packed that
from one skin, several hundred flies could be produced.
The original 'Matuka' was in general use back before
the First World War and even then the Australasian Bittern
Botaurus poiciloptilus was strictly protected.
Gradually as attitudes to wild life changed, a great number
of 'Matuka' variations began to develop, the 'Parsons Glory'
(Phil Parsons 1930) being one of the most famous. Parsons
used rooster feathers with irregular barred markings.
The fly met the approval of trout and today, the use
of rooster feathers is still a feature in many New
Zealand 'Matuka' designs.
In the early part of the last century, Australian fly
anglers used many 'Old English' fly patterns. Many of
these patterns called for feathers that were not
available in Australia. Imported feathers were expensive,
so to save money, every single imported feather was used
and often the bigger hackles were clipped back. More
locally obtainable feathers were often substituted and
also, various feathers were dyed.
It is unknown how or exactly when in the 1920's the
'Matuka' made its way to Australia. These were tough
times, many families kept chickens in a 'chook-house'
in the back yard for a constant supply of eggs. Feathers
from 'chooks' were ideal for making 'Matuka' style flies.
Fishing and hunting were more that just sport, they were
a way to help feed the family.
Almost always in nature, the male of the species is much
more beautiful, alluring and showy, but rooster feathers
are stiff, impairing less action to the fly than the more
drab looking hen feathers. The use of hen feathers for
wings, instead of cock, seems to be an Australian feature.
Whether or not this was done purposely, so as to give the
fly a more lifelike action is unknown. It may have been a
happy accident; hen feathers from the 'chook house' would
have been very convenient. As this style of fly, using hen
feathers became common, so too did the Sunday roast chicken
dinner for local fly dressers?
The best of the Australian 'Matuka' flies would be, the
Red and Black (unknown) the 'Green Matuka' (Dick Wigram)
and the two 'Parker's Perils,' the 'Red' and the 'Yellow
Perils' (Critchley Parker).
Critchley Parker was a founder of Melbourne's Herald and
Sun newspapers. In 1937, in the publication, 'Tasmania - The
Jewel of the Commonwealth', he writes:
'I believe that a great proportion of the flies
generally in use can be made from the dyed feathers
of the cock bird known as the white leghorn. I will
admit at once, though, that you must to be properly
equipped have feathers from the peacock and the
golden pheasant. The hawk, the shag and the crow
are very useful. The deep orange, the vivid scarlet
and the purples are necessary for the Purple Emperor,
and the combination of yellow and scarlet from which
I make Parker's Yellow Peril... I invented the
combination and mixed the dyes for this now popular
fly and Mr "Wattie" Williams and Mr Gerald Beauchamp
had the first two I made. They were mainly responsible
for the Yellow Peril's popularity. That was eight years
ago. I have several letters which I treasure, from
professional fly tiers, asking for information as
to the pattern and colours.'
In Dick Wigrams 1938 book, Trout and Fly in Tasmania
published by Sydney, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Dick states,
and I quote:
'Another very successful fly, in use all over the Great
Lake, is a red and yellow matuka known as the Yellow
Peril. Its originator, Mr Critchley Parker, of Melbourne,
who has fished at the lake for forty years or more,
was kind enough to make known this lure to the
It is unknown just how the feathers were dyed. In the
very early days much before 'Parker's Yellow Peril'
of feather dying, kitchen products were often used,
turmeric as a yellow dye and cochineal for red.
In M.E.Mc Causland's book, Fly Fishing in Australia
and New Zealand, 1947, published by The Specialty
Press Limited, there is a reference to dying of feathers.
"Dissolve the amount of dye required in boiling water
and immerse the feathers. Keep the water simmering,
but not boiling and after the feathers have been in
for a few minutes add a desert-spoon of vinegar. Keep
the feathers immersed until the required colour is
obtained and then remove them and place in a paper
bag; screw up the mouth of the bag and place near a
fire or gas stove. They will quickly dry in this way,
but if allowed to dry slowly will loose a little of
Yellow Peril (Critchley Parker)
Hook: Size # 6 -10 down eye, wet fly hook.
Rib: Oval gold tinsel.
Body: Yellow wool or suitable substitute.
Wing: Two scarlet and two yellow dyed hen
feathers stripped to fit shank matuka style, concave
side facing inwards. The two scarlet feathers are
together on the inside.
Head: Black and well formed.
Comment: The Red Peril is exactly the same
but it has a body made from red wool or suitable
substitute. The choice of two patterns gave the
angler a choice of pattern for different conditions.
1. Start fly as normal and wrap thread to rear of
hook tying in some oval gold tinsel to rib the wing later.
2. Dub wool or suitable substitute material forming
the body leaving plenty of room at the head of the
hook to tie in the wing and finish off the fly.
3. Find 4 matching hackle dyed feathers, two of each.
Length is subject to personal taste but about two times
the length of the hook shank should be right. Tie in
these feathers at the head of the fly.
4. Now use the wire rib to secure the rest of the wing
to the top of the body. This is the most important step
in making the fly. The wing must be flat along the shank
and vertical. Use your fingers to separate and spike the
feather fibres to make a small window to wrap the rib
through and try to keep the rib vertical over the body,
spiral the rub forward under the body not over the wing.
Make as four or five wraps to secure the wing and then
tie off the rib. ~ Alan Shepherd