Monday, December 31, 2018

Soft~Hackle Journal January 2019

               Happy New Year

“…We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet…”

Hope somebody gave you some good sipping whiskey for Christmas, & that you haven’t made any overly brash & severe New Year resolutions.

Though not old enough to vote, the fine single-malt in the photo is as smooth as a dimpled glide, bearing haunting tones of peat, seaweed & furrowed earth, with melancholic undertones of dark moor, salmon water & the smoke of ancient battles.

Of course, one must be discerning. More than a wee dram may lead to shocking, salacious behavior.

Bill Shuck photo

                               Leisenring’s Cow Dung ~ Bill Shuck

Don’t know where he got the dung fly porn, & didn’t ask, yet the estimable Mr. Shuck arises presciently on-cue with an instructional/inspirational follow-up to the above whiskey passages. Bill, we doff our collective hat.

Not a very elegant fly? Hey it’s a dung fly.

Leisenring nailed the color & texture of the dung fly; his version serving as a better imitation than the dark olive, floss-body version common in fly bins not too many years ago. In the early 70’s I used to fish a creek that meandered through several miles of pasture abundantly mined with ‘meadow muffins’ loaded with dung flies. It was a breezy place & a lot of the weak-flying poop-flies ended up in the water & trout were used to seeing them. Being a severely indoctrinated Leisenring disciple at the time, of course I tied & fished his version of the Cow Dung, & it did turn the trick on that little meadow creek.  And really, I believe that was the only place I ever fished a Cow Dung with any success, certain that my fly was being taken for the natural. Still, if you fish such a place, this is a worthwhile pattern. Here’s Bill’s take on it:

Looking through various listings of patterns tabulated by fly fishing writers over the years, “Cow Dung” appears frequently, appearing in the literature at least as far back as 1836 in Alfred Ronald’s “Fly Fishers Entomology”. The insect it is intended to mimic is a true fly (order Diptera), which have a single pair of wings that originate behind the legs and lie flat and crossed when the insect is at rest. Despite this, all the images I have seen of dressings show the same profile as that traditionally used for winged mayflies, with only the concession of having the wing slanted back at a severe angle.

 Also, various dressings call for body color ranging from lemon to green, with materials varying from worsted (crewel) wool to peacock herl. This seeming discrepancy can be explained by the fact that while the male dung fly common in Britain is a yellowish orange, the female is a dull olive. There are also differences about the material to be used for the wing, with at least one specifying dark mallard wing slips. I attribute this to the fact that the wings of the dung fly are a color best mimicked by slips from the secondary wing feathers of the landrail, a bird that is today universally protected. (Until the starling was declared endangered in Britain and placed on the protected list, Veniard used to sell starling wings dyed brown as a credible sub for the landrail; even those are in short supply these days.)

I have relied pretty much on Jim Leisenring’s version of the pattern as put forth in “The Art of Tying the Wet Fly”:

Cow Dung

Hook: #12, #13 (I used a Mustad 94840, Size #12)

Thread: Orange silk

Hackle: Ginger similar to body color

Body: Yellow crewel wool, seal fur, or mohair mixed with a little brown fur to … give the whole a dirty orange tinge (I used a blend of 85% yellow wool, 10% medium orange seal, and 5% medium brown Aussie possum)

Wings: Landrail (slips) slightly longer than body sloping back close over body with glossy side out (I used Veniard dyed brown starling as sub) ~Bill Shuck

                       The Tying Of The Flies                                

#18 Greenwells ~Steven Bird

“We fish for pleasure, I for mine, & you for yours.”  ~James Leisenring

Angling writers are fond of creating dichotomy. Dryfly versus Wetfly, for example. You guys who’ve been around awhile may remember the famous Halford versus Skues ‘debate’, which outdoor magazine writers riffed off of for decades. There were even reenactments of the famous showdown. Trueblood versus Laycock, in Field & Stream, is one I recall reading when I was a kid. And more recently the Presentation versus Fly Choice debate. Somebody says: “Presentation is everything.” And somebody else says: “Sure. As long as you’re presenting the right fly.” This type of article creates a construct out of really nothing & attempts to conflagrate it to Cold War status. Division creates conflict/drama/tension/excitement - & that does entertain, hence, it sells. (Sound like a familiar tactic?)

“What’s better? Dryfly or Wetfly?

phffft  !

The very premise is shady to begin with. As if there was some static, empirical, absolute metric for better regarding fly-angling methods. No country for sane men. And the way I read the famous debate: Halford, the proselytizer-in-chief, revealed that he was for the most part an air-filled mo-mo, with little actual knowledge of streamborn insects &, in fact, a Presentationist, his reputation founded on that. While the polite, respectful, obviously more advanced & vastly fishier wetfly man, Skues, really couldn’t of cared less &, I think, would happily have done without the whole thing.        

Medusa float indicator tied by Mark Hagopian
I love a good article &, faffing through internut stuff on old flies, I came across this excellent 1957 Sports Illustrated article by John McDonald, titled: The Tying Of The Flies. Not quite five years old when this article appeared, I am impressed with both the quality of the writing, the subject matter, & how well it has held up. I’ve rarely found an article of this caliber in a contemporary outdoor periodical.  McDonald does not construct a dichotomy, the nexus of his subject is interpreting the text in an effort to recreate the ambiguous ancient flies described by Dame Juliana Berners, however in doing so the author posits & explores two schools of fly design: the Classicists & the Innovators. And no doubt these two schools exist today. There are those who tie & fish nothing but the old classics, & get a lot of satisfaction from that. Then there are those who incline toward the fanciful, operating outside of any frame & having a lot of fun with that.  

These things are to be taken with a grain of salt, but I would suggest a third school: the Neoclassicist. A category into which, probably, most SHJ readers fit. The Neoclassicist stands midstream in tradition, knowing & taking what is useful from the past & both defining & refining it in new ways. The Neoclassicist is versatile & flexible – good & useful attributes for one involved in the tying of the flies. I would put forth that there are probably a lot more innovative Neoclassicists than there are pure-D Innovators. No matter. Together we spiral toward good designs.

                                                The Reel News

Considering the planetary tipping point.

The key to having it made is being able to realize when you have it made.

Thought Mexico was supposed to be paying for The Wall… But do we really need a wall? Consider roughly half of the southern border with Mexico is the Rio Grande River (water shared by both countries) & that the Bush administration already built a wall wherever it is possible do so, short of building it down the center of the river.  So?…


                                       Winter/Spring Trout Spey Spiders

Like a lot of you I am at the Winter vise, dreaming of warmer months, sure, but not in any real hurry to get there. Savoring the last of the Christmas whiskey, the home fire, the slow pace, & the tying of the flies. Here’s a few lures I’ll swing in early Spring before the insect hatches get going. Plenty of red. Red’s a trigger on pre-spawn rainbows in the mood for a tussle.

          Spruce Spider

Hook: #10 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Furnace

Body: Pac Bay Ruby 'C' rod wrapping thread -- forward 1/3 peacock herl 


            Winter Fly

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Brahma hen

Tail: Golden pheasant crest

Rib: Gold tinsel

Body: Olive rabbit; blue dubbing; claret dubbing

           Olive Gun

Hook: #8 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Olive UNI 8/0

Hackle: Guinea

Tail: black yarn

Rib: Silver tinsel

Body: Dark olive floss/peacock herl 

Red Ass Redux

Hook: #8 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Brahma hen

Tail: Red yarn

Rib: Red wire

Body: Red tinsel/peacock herl

Black/Red Spider

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: Black UNI 8/0

Hackle: Red Guinea

Tail: Golden pheasant tippet

Rib: Red wire

Body: Black rabbit/mixed red & black seal


  1. Stunning examples all. I really love that Black-and-Red Spider on the up-eye hook. Wow.

    Cow Dung is great stuff. I should have a brace of them tied-up for any sudden trip to the Driftless that might pop-up. That country screams for that in my box.

    Hope all is well and by the looks of it, all is. Great snaps all.

  2. Spike, glad you're reading. Yes, try the Black & Red.