The real mystery here is where in the world you're
going to find cuckoo hackle this side of Switzerland.
Once again I had to find a sub, and I think I've come
up with a decent one, but who knows? I've heard from
reliable sources that guys use all kinds of things to
sub for cuckoo, dying hackle pale yellow for instance.
That said, the recipe from Francis Francis calls for
"darkish cuckoo; dun natural color", and the picture in
Mikael Frodin's book looks as if the hackle is a fuzzy
grizzly. I decided that dark dun marabou would work, but
didn't have any. Then I looked at the bases of some rather
poor dark dun turkey flats that I bought some time ago,
and remembered that marabou is made from turkey. Voila!
I'm not sure how the hackle compares with real cuckoo,
but I like it anyway.
I tied this one for my friend Alice Conba from Tipperary
Town, Ireland. The town is located on the banks of the Suir
River, pronounced "sure." She has helped me overcome many
difficulties with fly tying, and is a constant source of
inspiration. I plan to do all three patterns listed in
Francis Francis for the Suir, and give them to her as a
thank-you. So this is the first of three.
The Mystery is a spring fly, used for rough, fast water,
as are all three flies listed. The fly is very much in
the style of The Shannon, but the version sent to Francis
Francis was tied with goose tip wings rather than the macaw
I've done. Francis Francis felt that the fly would perform
much better with the Macaw, and that has become the standard.
Kelson has some minor variations, a plain head, and chatterer
instead of kingfisher, but it's basically the same fly. He
mentions that the fly's originator caught a 57 pound salmon
on the Suir using the Mystery. I've written Alice, and netting
has destroyed much of the salmon fishing now, but the river has
brown trout and fishes quite well. There are moves afoot to
reestablish the salmon, and it's all quite political, which
I'm sure comes as no surprise.
Sir Herbert Maxwell, in his book Salmon and Seatrout
(1898) mentions that in Ireland where he was born the Mystery
was tied often without the cuckoo hackle. I almost took the
easy way out and omitted it when I read this, but how much
fun is that? I think one of the big challenges with these
flies, and part of what makes them so interesting to tie,
is coming up with suitable subs.
So there you have it. I've substituted for one other material
on this pattern, and used fairy bluebird instead of kingfisher
for the shoulder/cheeks. I have kingfisher, could have used it,
but I remembered how much I liked the fairy bluebird I used on
the Shannon, and decided to do it again. Call it artistic
license. Mine's currently under suspension. Here's the recipe
for the Mystery from Francis Francis book A Book on Angling.
Credits: A Book on Angling by Francis Fransic;
Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin. ~ EA
Tag: Silver twist and orange floss.
Tail: A topping and an Indian crow.
Butt: Black ostrich herl.
Body: Orange floss.
Ribs: Broad silver tinsel edged with fine gold thread.
Hackle: A darkish cuckoo, dun natural color,
all the way up, with a claret hackle near the head.
Wings: Bright yellow macaw, with red macaw points.
Head: Black ostrich herl.
I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown
of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River.
I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours
with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and
A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying
just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable
time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that
somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a
group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store
that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y.
My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically.
Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always
considered him to be one of my biggest influences.
I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't
fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with
had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in
John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the
keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in
the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the
time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's
studio. It was a blast.
So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies
column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply
wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies
take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get
to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy
hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies
brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense
hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old
books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now,
here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA