Classic Ways

I have certainly spent a great deal of time throughout the winter months thinking about the classics, both in tackle and in fly tying. The beautiful simplicity and elegance of British North Country flies made an impression upon me, and I gathered a better supply of tying silks and game bird feathers to allow some tying and experimentation in that genre.

John Atherton’s ideas and fly patterns intrigued me somewhat last winter as I experimented with blended silk and ever more of my favorite barred cock’s hackles. This winter I fully took the plunge, finally securing a small portion of seal’s fur and working to replicate his primary dubbing blends that I might tie his patterns accurately. Seal was once to fly tiers as synthetic yarns and dubbings are to us today.

In thinking about the properties of materials, I am always on the lookout for those that help me construct a fly with a strong image of life, thus reflective materials such as Antron have figured prominently in my tying. I thought it only appropriate to blend a little dubbing for some of my favorite patterns using seal as opposed to synthetics, to pay homage to the classics.

The flies I call Heritage Drakes, a mixed wing CDC dun and a 100-Year Dun, tied with a blend of custom dyed seal fur, two shades of dyed beaver, and natural red fox belly fur. CDC feathers have of course existed as long as there have been waterfowl, but they did not find their way to the fly tier’s bench until the 1920’s when a pair of Swiss tyers first used them.

I began this project as I begin many of my fly design projects, with the Eastern Green Drake. I have always found that the larger the insect, the more difficult the task for both the angler and fly designer. I strongly believe that larger flies are the easiest imitations for trout to detect to be frauds, for it easier to see much more detail. The Green Drake is the largest mayfly hatch I expect to encounter in any given season, and thus I place paramount importance on crafting flies to solve the most difficult trout.

I have tied many CDC patterns with a single-color wing, and they have been very effective. I do however recognize that certain trout in certain types of water and light conditions will pass on an opportunity to take these flies that have seduced many of their brethren. Matching color and the natural venation of the green drake dun’s wings is best accomplished by a multi-colored wing. In the Heritage Drake I used dyed green, a small amount of black and pale yellow CDC to imitate the fluttering wings of the natural, an approach that has succeeded in the past.

I often wonder if old Gordon and his contemporaries might have paid a little attention to those wavy little feathers on the butts of the ducks they plucked for flank feathers. Since they were first used for flies in Switzerland and France a century ago, its seems that some of our legendary anglers, men like Hewitt and LaBranche, might have been exposed to CDC feathered flies. I have never seen mention of them in any writings from the Golden Age, though it seems it should be a traditional Catskill fly tying material.

I first found CDC feathers readily available in a Gunpowder Falls fly shop in the early 1990’s, little packages labelled by Umpqua Feather Merchants, and simply had to have some. CDC was a main ingredient in my very first original fly pattern back in those days, and I found success with them immediately in my formative years. Thirty years later, there is more likely to be a CDC dry fly on my tippet than any other type of fly.

The 100-Year Drake has been a stalwart design for me, beginning with the Green Drake and progressing through most of our primary mayfly hatches. The addition of an all natural blend which very closely matches the duns’ coloration fits perfectly with this classically inspired pattern, and provides another alternative for encounters with those special wild trout that remain unconvinced.

A touch of orange dyed seal has inspired a blend for sulfurs, one used for the thorax alone on a 100-Year Dun pattern, and I have been thinking seriously about a Hendrickson, a pattern I would hope to be fishing in the month of April barring a recurrence of flooding. I do have a lot of experimental Hendricksons already filling my fly boxes, likely too many to fish in one season, but I hate to ignore inspiration!

Perhaps I will blend a little dubbing right now…

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