Old is New, Or Is It Old?

My Beaverkill Hendrickson, (a fly that shouldn’t be). My 100-Year Dun was inspired by the original style of Theodore Gordon with its single clump, canted wing of wood duck flank feather, as opposed to the “Catskill Style” of his followers: Cross, Christain and Steenrod et al. Both tied with identical materials, they sit the water with an entirely different attitude.

With light snow blowing around on as many mornings as not, I am still in that very early phase of playing with my winter fly tying. My activity slows down after early October and the end of our dry fly season. If nothing else that is another symptom of my withdrawal from the bliss of a full season with the floating fly. I decided to tie one of the flies I call my “Beaverkill Hendrickson” yesterday afternoon for a touch of therapy, a Catskill tie, then followed it quickly with a pair of the same in my 100-Year Dun style.

That Beaverkill Hendrickson is one of those mayfly imitations one shouldn’t have to tie. It is contrary to the established facts of our Catskill entomology. The learned have long ago set down the rules for the mayfly we commonly call the Hendrickson, that magical bug that brings the first enthralling bliss of spring. The females are the larger of the species, imitated with a light tannish body, tied on either a size 12 or size 14 hook. The males are smaller, hued in that darker reddish tone that inspired the much darker Red Quill. We all know to tie our red quills in sizes 14 and 16.

Fishing the Beaverkill early in my first spring as a resident angler, I plucked a large, active dun from the chilly air with some surprise. This certainly looked like a Hendrickson, but it was a touch large for a size 12 imitation, and it clearly wasn’t tan. The bug was the ruddy shade that brings to mind old, worn bricks. Far more red than pinkish, the fly appeared to be an undeniably huge Red Quill.

Back at my tying bench that evening, I set to work upon a solution. A darker blend of fox fur, colored and enlivened with the sparkle of Antron fibers in a lovely brick red shade. The blend proved a near perfect match on the water, and I have taken a number of fine large brown trout with the flies I have tied with it, whether CDC patterns, Catskill ties or my homage to Gordon’s legacy. I encounter the flies each spring on that river, along with the accepted tan size 14 Hendricksons. Having not found the big red duns anywhere else, I labeled my initial baggie of blended dubbing “Beaverkill Hendrickson”.

I do not entertain any notions that this is a “new” mayfly. I feel confident that it is a Hendrickson, and accept that Nature doesn’t read the collected works of either fly fishermen or professional entomologists, and has her own way with all wild things as she sees fit.

I do tend to tie more of them in the 100-Year Dun configuration than the historic Catskill style. Having tied and fished this style of dry fly during a variety of hatches, I am confident in its ability to deceive the more difficult and selective trout I encounter during a hatch. A riser in the fast, broken current will likely take the Catskill tie, as will some where the flow calms. The 100-Year Dun rides all speeds of water well, and excels in the flat, clear flows where trout enjoy the luxury of more detailed inspection.

The accounts of Mr. Gordon agree as to his secretiveness and skills of observation as concerns his fly tying and fishing. Indeed, his solitary lifestyle would have lent itself toward quiet observation and contemplation, particularly while seeking to adapt English dry fly techniques to the wild American waters. Working from Frederick Halford’s English patterns he chose the single canted wing as opposed to the divided pairs of his predecessors. Likewise, he chose the beautiful, barred feathers of the male wood duck’s flank for that wing rather than a gray feather more closely matching the primary color of most spring mayflies. An experiment? Perhaps one undertaken in recognition of the mottled feather’s greater impression of life when lit by sunlight?

As my winter reading broadens, I will most certainly revisit his notes and letters as collected in John McDonald’s classic “The Complete Fly Fisherman”. I will search those pages for some mention of Gordon’s inspiration in this regard. Whether I find it or not, l feel certain his choice was more a product of his thought and observation than of the simple practicality of easy availability.

In the pair of flies photographed at the beginning of this post, you will note my own preference for barred hackles. The tailing is taken from a speckled grizzly variant Coq-De-Leon saddle, and the wrapped hackle from one of Charlie Collins’ spectacular barred dun dry fly capes, one with a rusty tinge to the darker dun shade. When I tie them, I picture the light sparking and reflecting from the surface of the river to the fly, and the myriad reflections those barred and speckled materials offer to the eye of the trout, a vivid impression of life!

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