I was fooling around with, well, a swimming nymph variation for the Green Drake last week. I wanted to try a different approach to a fly to use on those days, you know the ones, the bane of the dry fly angler; the days when the trout rise nearly to the top to take the rising nymphs, and simply refuse anything visible on the surface. I had one of those days last season, the only day in fact I encountered any sort of hatch of the big drakes, and it wasn’t pretty.
After I blended some dubbing and fashioned half a dozen big, ugly flies, I got to thinking about much older solutions. The gentlemen across the pond have a long tradition in soft hackled flies, spiders and North Country flies, and I wondered if they had such a fly for their “Mayfly”, the Ephemera danica, a relative of our Eastern Green Drake. I contacted a friend and fellow member of the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild, Tom Mason. Tom has an interest in ancient and classic flies, particularly soft hackles, and is a masterful tyer of multiple styles of trout flies, and I wondered if he may have knowledge of an English Danica pattern. While Tom didn’t have a Danica spider at his fingertips, he did surprise me with a drake imitation with an interesting history.
Tom learned of the pattern pictured above from an old angler he met on the streets of Roscoe, New York some thirty years ago. The fellow showed Tom this big fly, tied with pale green seal’s fur and teal flank feathers, offering that he had fished with iconic writer and angler Ray Bergman down on the Beaverkill near Butternut Grove back in the 1940’s. The fly was Bergman’s pattern.
Tom is what I would call a scholar when it comes to trout flies and thus researched the fly, finding no trace of it in Bergman’s prolific writings. It seems this must have been a favorite fish catcher he kept under his hat. Tom allows that the fly, a pattern we would recognize as an emerger today, has been very successful for him. He doubts Ray Bergman called it that, for emerger wasn’t a term used for trout flies back in the 1940’s. This is one of the pleasant little questions that will continue to intrigue.
As soon as Tom handed me the fly I smiled with recognition, as the technique is much the same as the CDC emergers I designed and tied thirty years ago. Bergman had used folded teal flank to imitate the emerging wing bud with a low loop, just as I had used a pair of CDC feathers fifty years later. This loop style wing bud will trap air bubbles and hang the fly in the surface film with the body submerged, just like a struggling nymph. There are no new flies.
Though I have an extensive selection of tying materials, I haven’t a wisp of seal’s fur, so I set about making a blend to achieve a similar effect. I started with Angora Goat dubbing in medium olive, light gray and yellow, this fur being widely used as a substitute for seal. I added bits of olive hare’s ear, bleached squirrel, light olive dun Antron and Hemingway’s Beaver Plus dubbing to get as close as possible to the color and translucency of seal fur. I still have some experimenting to do, both in blending and in selecting a dubbing technique to achieve the sparse, spiky abdomen on Tom’s imitation. One look tells me that Tom’s fly will be clustered with air bubbles when fished and will look very much alive. He has a particular touch with traditional materials to get that very deadly effect, whereas I turn to Antron to get sparkly bubbles and light reflections.
My thanks to Tom for graciously sharing this pattern and the story behind it. I look forward to tying a few more and then fishing them this season. It will be neat to fool some of our educated, oversized Catskill browns with an eighty-year-old secret fly!