TRADITIONAL SALMON FLIES
A BRIEF HISTORY
Mid 19 th Century to Mid 20 th Century
Generally, prior to the early 1800s, salmon flies were relatively simple in design; sombre in colour, and mainly used locally sourced materials. There were of course exceptions to this generalisation, and in particular, Irish salmon flies tended to be somewhat more elaborate and gaudy.
By the middle of the 19 th century the Irish influence began to be felt in mainland Britain, due to a significant extent, by William Blacker (and others), an Irishman and professional fly tyer who moved to London and established his business in the early 1840s. Many of his designs were complex, used a variety of colourful
exotic feathers etc. and received a great deal of interest following the publication, in 1855, of his book “The Art of Fly Making”.
The next 60 years or so, saw a huge upsurge in salmon angling and an acceleration in the development of the salmon fly, with fly tyers vying to produce what they regarded the best and/or most elaborate patterns, utilising the full range of materials readily available to them from throughout the British Empire.
The merits, or otherwise, of the various patterns, and the opinions of fly tyers and authors, were passionately debated in the angling press of the day.
The most influential books on the subject published during this period were, “A Book on Angling”, by Francis Francis, (1867), “How to Tie Salmon Flies”, by J.H. Hale, (1892), “The Salmon Fly”, by George M. Kelson, (1895) and “How to Dress Salmon Flies”, by T.E.Pryce-Tannatt, (1914).
By the 1940s the era of the use of the large feather winged salmon fly was approaching it's end, mainly due to the widespread adoption of the “Greased Line” method of fly fishing developed by Mr A. H. E. Wood at Cairnton on the Dee, which tended to use smaller and simpler flies, but also to the realisation that elaborate patterns were not required to catch salmon.
Now, of course, we all use fairly simple flies, in my own case, usually a Silver Stoat's Tail or Ally's Shrimp.
THE SALMON FLIES
The purpose of this article is merely to give the ordinary angler a simple appreciation of the various types of salmon flies that were in use during the stated period. An example or examples of each type will be displayed, along with pattern details, background information, possible substitute materials, and hopefully some tips regarding tying.
From the 1850s until the start of the 20 th century, most flies were tied on “Blind” hooks, i.e. they were manufactured without a metal eye. The eye of the fly was formed using twisted gut bound to the shank of the hook prior to commencement of the dressing process.
All the examples to be shown will be tied on metal-eyed single hooks.
The viewer should be aware that there are many historical disagreements regarding pattern details, for this exercise I shall generally use the patterns as described in “How to Dress Salmon Flies”, by T.E. Pryce-Tannatt.
If you are interested in further reading, “The Fly Dressers Guide” and “Fly-Dressing Materials”, by John Veniard, are very useful.