When I took seriously and exclusively to flyfishing
(admittedly I had fished in other ways before, but
don't tell anyone) I was working for my family firm
of gunmakers and tackle dealers. This was an
old-established (1811)company in Belfast and attracted
fishermen of every persuasion from all over Ireland
and from many corners of the globe.
We sold a vast number of flies, tied by Hardy's,
Walker-Bampton, Alex.Martin (of Glasgow) and Crow
of Redditch to name but the most noteworthy. Quite
a few local, almost amateur, tiers reached an
acceptable standard and we bought flies from them
when they were offered. Beauty and consistency were
The patterns used then would be regarded today as
from a bygone age. I could list them interminably
but...boring! Just let me throw in a few-- Defiant,
Invincible, Red Spinner, Kingfisher Butcher, Waterhen
Bloa, Snipe and Purple, Dotterel and Yellow, Le Fanu,
Pink Wickham, Heckham Peckham. How many of these do
you have in your flybox?
That is not the reason for this little letter (it might
make the subject of a later one.)
Rather the difference in patterns to those we use today.
We had quite a few customers of the old school who had
an odd habit. It was the custom to tip out a box of,
say, twenty flies onto the glass counter-top so the
buyer could pick through them to find, say, six that
matched his ideas of neatness and uniformity. When
selected, these would be rolled between forefinger
and thumb, resulting in a fly unrecognizable from a
few seconds ago! (these are wet flies in question)
This apparent destruction of well set wing and a
beautifully arranged hackle appeared sacrilegious
but was defended on query as being how the fly would
look after frequent casts had taken their toll of the
fly's pristine beauty, not to mention the savage
treatment by the teeth of a few trout. Many fishermen
firmly held that flies would not catch fish until they
had acquired that weathered look.
Flies have changed considerably since then and our
preoccupation with looks, strict adherence to the
original pattern and copycat similarity to each
other now appears nit-pickingly unneccesary.
BUT THINK! What is a battered Black Pennel but a Black
Buzzer! Bedraggled Red Spinner...Red Buzzer; Grouse and
Green with only shreds of wing left...Damsel Nymph;
Invicta, Soldier Palmer or Wickham's Fancy...all
hatching sedge imitators had we but paused to think.
We knew that Butchers, Alexandras and Teal Blue and
Silver looked like fry or little fish but all these
were available as dry flies!
Think that one out ! ~ James Clarke, UK