Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps?

Part One hundred sixty

Megan Boyd

Megan Boyd

Compiled By Deanna Birkholm
Flies dressed by Megan Boyd, the Miss Megan Boyd tied by Jimmy Younger

From The London Times of NOVEMBER 26 2001:


Megan Boyd

One of the world's greatest perfectionists in the art of tying fishing flies though she never fished herself

Megan Boyd, of Brora in Sutherland, was hailed by many as the finest tier of fishing flies in the world. She began tying flies at the age of 12 under the expert tutelage of a Sutherland keeper, Bob Trussler, and quickly became an artist in the craft. She made her reputation by tying classic and traditional flies such as the Jock Scott, Silver Doctor, Durham Ranger and Wilkinson. She rarely bothered to invent a new tying, though some of the most complicated patterns that she tied can only be produced by an expert of her calibre. Yet despite the huge numbers of salmon that could not resist her flies, she never fished herself.

She did, however, give the angling world one creation that will ensure that salmon fishermen never forget her name. With the help of a friend and a client, Jim Pilkington, she devised a fly that became widely known as the Megan Boyd,[see photo below] and it became her trademark in dealing with fishermen around the world.

This blue-and-black fly catches salmon whether tied in the normal manner on a single hook or as a tube fly. Many fishermen swear that a tiny Megan Boyd, which she dressed on a minute tube with a size 18 treble, will catch salmon in dead low summer flows when most anglers would not expect any sport. Carefully used, with a gentle touch, these little flies have often saved some of Megan Boyd's more knowledgeable customers from a blank day.

Rosina Megan Boyd was the youngest of three children. She is thought to have been born in England in 1915, and was taken to Scotland in 1918 when her father became a bailiff or river watcher on a Sutherland estate. During the Second World War she had various jobs, including a spell doing a milk round and duties as an auxiliary coastguard. Although she seems to have had little formal education, she was never at a loss when dealing with her many distinguished customers.

For over half a century she worked in her garden shed at Kintradwell, overlooking the North Sea. A kidney-shaped dressing table served as her workbench, and on it she tied flies with the meticulous precision that was best described in a letter printed by the Inverness Courier.

Jimmie Ferard, who has collected her work for many years and still has more than two thousand of her flies, wrote to the paper: "Her fly tying was unique. Surely one of the world´s greatest perfectionists in this art. The trouble she took over just arranging the pieces of hair for a Stoat's Tail fly had to be seen to be believed. She used to put these hairs in the top of her lipstick holder with the ends sticking out and she said they should never be trimmed or cut as this was unnatural to the fish."

Boyd's flies had to be exactly right. The shape, the material, the lengths and sizes all mattered terribly. The precision and deftness of the fly-tier may be more important in the mind of the angler than to the fish, though there is no doubt that the colour of the fly, its sinuosity in water and its size play a great role in its success. The actual presentation of the fly is also vital. Salmon want to protect their habitat in the river and will fight trespassing foreign objects.

Nobody really knows why the salmon takes a fly, but many anglers believe that the fish's reactions are triggered by infant memories of its first encounters with the abundant food source that sand eels can provide. In discussion, Boyd always came back to the baby sand eels on which young salmon smolts feed when they leave their natal rivers at the start of their oceanic migration. Sadly, she watched as sand eel shoals suffered badly from the trawlers that scooped them up from the sandbanks off the East Coast of Scotland, right outside her window.

As a dedicated conservationist she was a major supporter of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and its efforts to buy out all the salmon nets which obstruct the return of the small remaining stocks of wild salmon to their native rivers to spawn. She regularly donated wonderful examples of her flies to be auctioned around the world to help this cause.

For most of her life she was full of energy, and she was a much-loved local figure. Country dancing was her favourite relaxation, and she took an active role in helping the old and disabled locally. Electricity did not reach her house until 1985, when she was already 70 and suffering, not surprisingly, from failing eyesight. A few years later she was forced to retire.

But her talk always came back to salmon flies and their history, the dressings and the vast number of renowned fishermen friends she had made during her lifetime. She remembered Charles H. Akroyd, the veteran sportsman from Duncraggie who devised the Akroyd fly, sometimes called the poor man's Jock Scott. He had visited Iceland's Big Laxá river in 1877.

In 1971 Boyd was awarded the British Empire Medal. Last year the Prince of Wales honoured her with a visit, and she later said that they had discussed the Popham, a very great fly. She said that if she had to pick a favourite, this glorious creation would be her choice. Originated by F. L. Popham, the pattern is one of the most complicated and beautifully constructed of all the classic dressings that Britain has given to the sport.

Megan Boyd, fly-tier, was born on January 29, 1915. She died on November 15, 2001, aged 86."

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Flies Tied by Megan Boyd

Many of the Fly Anglers OnLine readers contributed to this Memorial to a grand tier of Atlantic Salmon flies, our sincere thanks to them all. Hans Weilenmann found a National Public Radio (NPR) program with an interview discussing Megan Boyd, we are including a link here, but if it disappears from the NPR Archives we will remove it. It is delightful, do take the time to listen to it:


Miss Megan Boyd

Miss Megan Boyd

    Tag: Oval, silver tinsel and blue floss.

    Tail: Golden pheasant crest and blue hackle tip.

    Butt: Black ostrich herl.

    Body: 1/3 yellow seal's fur; 2/3s blue.

    Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel.

    Hackle: Blue cock hackle over blue seal's fur.

    Wing: Golden pheasant tippets, married strips of yellow and blue goose, bustard or brown turkey and bronze mallard.

    Cheeks: Jungle cock.

    Topping: Golden pheasant crest.

    Head: Black.

    Originator: Either Jimmy Younger or Megan Boyd or both.

    Intended Use: Wet fly for Atlantic Salmon.

    Location: United Kingdom.


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