The Challenge of Style

Behold my friend Tom Mason’s impression of The Green Drake from William Robinson’s list of North Country Flies, circa 1820. Tom has a masterful style in tying flies, particularly the classic old English wet flies. Note the subtle curve in the tailing, the way the hackle looks alive! My growing interest in these patterns finds me with much to aspire to.

Indeed, there is a style in tying the North Country Flies that varies from the norm, the standard method that any capable fly tyer, not a student of the style, would likely employ. The same can be seen in the dry flies of the small cadre of tyers who formed the Catskill school. There is a quality evident when viewing a Rueben Cross pattern or a sample from the bench of the Dette’s.

I watched Mary Dette Clark tying this Dun Variant in 1994. Is there any doubt it came from the bench of a Catskill master?

In my search for North Country drakes and related inspiration, I have examined more than a few videos from international tyers. Mr. Robert L. Smith, author of the acclaimed book “North Country Flies: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition” ties these ancient patterns with the style of a scholar. His flies remind me of Tom’s in their exquisite sparseness and technique. Traditional soft hackles flies are not complex patterns, but their image of life is accentuated by the stylistic talents of these tyers.

A number of years ago I attended a wonderful presentation by Mr. John Shaner on the subject of English “spiders”. John, a long-time representative of the House of Hardy, is another talented gentleman who has a strong interest in these old English angling traditionals. I have since become acquainted with John, who was kind enough to send me information on a drake imitation he called the French Partridge Mayfly. Working with the words and photos of these three continues to lead me down the path of British angling history.

With the wild hope of actually spending an hour or two on the river this week, I set about the challenge of imitating something of the North Country style. Should I somehow encounter the miracle of a winter emergence and feeding trout, I realize that fishing dry flies will be unlikely. But what about flies fished nearly dry?

My fishing version of a North Country classic, the Waterhen Bloa.

The Waterhen Bloa is a fly touted for fishing to various species of blue-winged olive mayflies, so I set out to equip myself with a small assortment in size 16. Perusing the list of materials for this simple yet lifelike pattern I found I had only one of three materials required, yellow Pearsall’s Gossamer silk.

Yellow silk? Yes, there is nothing olive in this North Country imitation of olive mayflies. Yellow silk is thoroughly waxed to achieve an olive coloration. Beyond that, substitution was required to allow a reasonable attempt at tying this fly. The dubbing specified is water rat, and luckily one of Smith’s videos showed the natural fur. I carefully raked out a small tuft of red squirrel, keeping it loose so that I might touch dub the sparest amount on the heavily waxed silk.

Mr. Smith’s blog site “The Sliding Stream” offered two videos dealing with the various hackles historically employed in tying North Country flies. I had neither the original waterhen, nor his suggested replacement of covert feathers from a coot’s wing. Not even my friend the Jersey Duck Commander had a coot in his considerable larder. The only dusky, bronzy dun feather I have is a wing covert feather from a chukar partridge, the same bird as the French partridge, as I learned from John Shaner.

I was pleased that the touch dubbed red squirrel and the chukar covert let me tie a reasonable if nowhere near historically correct fishing version of the Waterhen Bloa. I believe it has captured the essential image of life I have seen in some of the originals. If the Red Gods smile upon this cabin feverish old angler this week, I hope to leave the final judgement up to the trout.

2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Style

  1. Now that brought a smile to my face.
    Enjoy your trip down the spider hole!
    Both Tom and John are a wealth of knowledge and masters of their craft and good people.


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