We have, my friends, come full circle. I intend to
show here that we are now, after years of scientific
inquiry and investigation, fishing in much the same
way as Dame Juliana Berners did in 1450. Techno
fishing has become retro fishing, and I'll prove it
with this fly.
Which authors most exemplify the scientific approach
to modern-day trout fishing would you guess? Art Flick,
Vince Marinaro, Joe Brooks, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh,
certainly all of these legends would be considered
important. I would have to choose the ground breaking
work started by Vince Marinaro in A Modern Dry-Fly
Code and Swisher/Richard's Selective Trout
as the two most important books bearing on today's technical
fly-fishing, along with Caucci/Nastasi's Hatches
which builds on the work of Fran Betters. Most of the flies
used today by serious spring creek anglers are a direct
outgrowth of those shown in works by these authors, if
not identical copies. Even cripples and captive duns are
included in Swisher/Richard's second book Fly Fishing
It is the no-hackle that I'd like to focus on here. I just
now received a copy of Selective Trout from
a good friend, Dr. Barton Evans of Bozeman, Montana. I thought
I knew all about this book, having read entire sections from
it in other sources, but I was surprised when I looked at the
no-hackle duns. Several versions are shown, and the focus is
more on the cut wing, hackle tip wing, and mallard breast
feather winged versions than the mallard quill no-hackle
that we all fish today. I immediately felt the need to tie
some of these, and the best of the bunch is represented at
the top of the page. I photographed the fly, looked at it,
and thought "This looks like some of the old colonial flies
from Williamsburg, VA." It also reminded me of some
representations I'd seen of Dame Juliana Berner's flies.
There is considerable argument whether or not flies were
fished wet or dry in the years before actual fly rods and
reels made an appearance. Dapping, or dabbling a fly in
the water above fish, was clearly an established method
of fly fishing, using long sticks with a short length of
horse-hair line at the end, with a fly attached to the
end of that. Dame Juliana herself talks of fishing for
trout at "leaping time" with a "float line" and "dubbed
hook." Logic dictates that some of these flies were fished
dry, or at the very least, "damp." In any case, I'll make
that argument here. Now let's look at one of Dame Juliana's
The Yellow Fly: the body of yellow wool; the wings of red
cock's hackle and of the drake dyed yellow.
Here's one from Cotton, circa 1676:
"We have another dun, called the BARM-FLY, from its
yeasty colour(sic). The dubbing of the fur of a yellow
dun cat, and a grey wing of a mallard's feather."
The last fly differs very little from the PMD no-hackle dun
I've shown, the latter having a body of pale yellow/olive
fur, light gray duck shoulder or breast feather wings, and
tail of dun hackle fibers.
So we see that with all the aquarium nets, slant tanks,
modern macro photography, years of study built upon the
years of study of others, we have achieved what Dame
Juliana and Charles Cotton accomplished several hundred
years ago, the no-hackle dun. I think all our hard work
has finally paid off!
Seriously though, something must be said here regarding
the inclusion of split tails by Swisher and Richards on
their dun, a great aid to floating and stabilizing this
fly. Vince Marinaro pioneered this idea with his thorax
flies, using the "outrigger tails" to keep the fly from
tipping over. Their collective work succeeded in creating
dry flies that would work on still water, having a profile
that makes catching spooky trout in our heavily pounded
waters a possibility. Marinaro, Swisher, and Richards
truly are the great ones of our current era. I had a
wonderful time tying some of these, and if you don't
think Carl Richards belongs in the pantheon of great
fly tiers, I would suggest giving this one a try. They
have all the difficulty of fan wings, with the added
challenge that the mallard wings should come out the
sides of the fly. When tied in smaller sizes, this fly
becomes a real bear. Here's the recipe for The Other
No-Hackle PMD, as shown above:
Swisher/Richards suggest firming the mallard feathers up
with some lacquer or cement, and I think it's a good idea.
What I did was to use thick head cement at the base of
the back of each wing before tying in, to about a third
of the way up. This helps keep the wing together when
tying in, and intact when fishing. These flies are for
quiet, clear water, and spooky trout. Floatability is an
issue, and a good spread on the tails, and high floating
dubbing are a must. ~ EA
Hook: As light a dry fly hook as you can find,
#16 or #18 if you can manage it.
Tail: Dun hackle fibers, or coq de Leon, or
microfibbets dyed PMD yellow/olive.
Body: Rough PMD dubbing, dubbed heavy enough to
float the fly well. This should taper to a thick thorax.
Wings: Mallard breast or shoulder feathers.
Credits: Selective Trout by Doug Swisher and Carl
Richards; The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle by Dame
Juliana Berners; A Fly Fishing History by Dr. Andrew
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