Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Currently Reading: 'Fly Tying with Harold Howarth' by Donald Townsend

I am a avid reader of fly fishing books. Their collection and reading is one of the many aspects that I love about this great sport. Indeed, I thought I maybe make a regular feature of the blog and share with you what I am currently reading and my thoughts on the book. I think we all know we are forunate to have a historical and contemporary rich body of work to experience. You could spend a small fortunate very quickly on Amazon, for example, amassing a tidy collection or spend your days hunting down the classics in second hand bookstores.

The first book is Fly Tying with Harold Howarth by Donald Townsend (1980) Published by A & C Black.  Before I begin,  as with nearly everything in this blog, these are only my impressions, opinions and insights. I first came across Harold Howorth's name in Malcom Greenhalgh's and Jason Smalley's 'Trout Flies' where he was attributed as the inventor of a number of spider patterns, and more significantly, where he was accredited to pioneer a style of soft hackle in the 1940s and 1950s along with Frederick Mold. This style was inclusion of a thorax to mostly standard patterns of usually peacock herl before the hackle to enhance the insect profile of the fly and its movement in the water. I was eager to learn a little more about Howorth and his fly dressings.

Townsend provides a brief introduction to Howorth before describing his fly dressings for 30 trout and salmon flies. Harold Howorth was born in a small Lancashire town, Haslingden in 1898.

In this short book of 96 pages the author illustrates Howorth's flies, why they were invented and his experience with them in practice.

Many of the flies presented are standard or established flies - the waterhen bloa, the greenwell and the black gnat, for example. Yet, for many of the established patterns, Howorth modified the pattern in terms of design and materials. For example in his Waterhen Bloa, Howorth dressed a slim section of yellow silk as one part of the body followed with mole fur built up for the second part. Townsend writes "This is then followed by a rather sparse hackle. This causes the hackle to stand more erect and allow better  movement when the fly is finished" (p,69). 

In terms of another established pattern in the North Country grouping - the Snipe and Purple, Howorth replaced the soft snipe hackle with durable lesser coverts of a duck wing. Again he added a few turns of peacock herl behind the hackle to give better fibre movement. This is known as the Henthorn Purple. So this style of a herl thorax before a sparse hackle on spider dressings is a trademark of Howorth's tyings. And from reading Roger Rogg's 'Handbook of North Country Flies' we realise this addition of a short thorax before the hackle constitutes one dressing style for North Country soft hackles.

So the book contains some really interesting dressings - some modified versisions of the established and some new. Additionally, there is some useful advice. For example, the tying of a collar hackle after the wing enables the fly to fish well, prevents twisting in the water. Yet, this is not the conventional recipe book or instructional book you commonly see nowadays. Luckily, I never held this expectation. This is a short personal book of one man's experiences with flies he was using, modifying and creating over his extensive fishing life. More than this, I suspect this book is an important slice of the rich history surrounding North Country wet fly fishing. Indeed, for me, it tells something about soft hackles and North Country flies -  their development and limits of use. The inclusion of a thorax to provide extra movement to the hackle reconciles with the argument that some standard soft hackles are not as effective in fast water, especially when fished downstream.  Maybe more surely, the book is a reminder of how some tradtional patterns were modified by creative anglers, and yet preserved by others. Indeed, I suspect there have been many Howorth types in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Borders that took certain classic soft hackle dressings and modified them to suit their own intution, rivers and insect hatches. Maybe this is nothing new?  So for myself, who aspiring to learn more about North Country flies and fishing, the book was valuable, a nice addition to the collection.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Yellow Spiders

I apologise for not posting lately. With work and family commitments I found it very difficult having time for fly tying and blogging. I am trying my best to finish stuff at work before I head off on holiday in Ireland with the family at the end of the month. I am so looking forward to take my baby boy home to see his grandparents and uncles and for some fishing. I manage some time for the bench today - yellow spiders were on my mine. On the last few occasions on the river I noticed a few Yellow May Duns (Heptogenia sulphurea)  and anticpate to see the Yellow Sally (Isoperia grammatica) stonefly in the forthcoming period. So I thought it would be useful to have a few yellow spiders in the box:

Yellow-Legged Bloa
Hook: Partridge, 'TWH, The Wet' Size 14
Body: Primrose gossamar
Thorax: Light olive/yellow fur (optional). I have used light yellow hare's ear.
Hackle: Light Yellow or Ginger Hen. I have used light yellow.

I believe this is a pattern which can be used to imitate the nymph or emergers of the Yellow May duns or the Yellow Sally.

Yellow Sally (wet)
Hook: Partridge, 'TWH, The Wet' Size 14
Body: Light yellow fur. I have used pale watery yellow polyrite dubbing
Hackle: Golden Plover

I bought this Whiting brahma cape dyed pale yellow several months ago which nested in drawer forgotton about.  I think it is a lovely looking cape, striking, has that dyed partridge/game look. My personal niggle is the number of small feathers on the cape. It has not too many hackles for tying size 14 or below. That aside, it will still come in very handy for palmered wets, bumbles and the sort. Anyway, there were enough hackles for a few size 14 flies and therefore tied some yellow-olive spiders for the river to give an idea what the hackle looks like: 

Hare's Ear Spider Variant
Hook: Kamasan B160, Size 14
Body: Olive Hare's Ear plus
Rib: Gold Wire
HackleL Pale Yellow Brahma 

 Yellow Patridge Spider
Hook: Timeco TMC531, Size 14
Tag: Gold tinsel
Body: Yellow silk
Rib: Green thread
Hackle: Pale Yellow Brahma Hen

This is based on an old Irish variant of a Partridge and Yellow.

Brahma Fluff Emerger  
Hook: Tiemco

Body: yellow gossamar
Wing: Tied buble style

This is made from the flue on the base/bottom of the hackle. I am not sure about the floatability but should have plenty of movement.

 Edward's Yellow Spider
Hook: Partridge L3A, Size 12
Body: Yellow sulphur superfine dubbing wound tigthly
Hackle: Primrose or pale yellow hen hackle


This appears to me to be similar to a Pritt dressing for a Yellow Sally. Mr Oliver Edwards features the above in one of his DVDs (Wet Fly Fishing) - he uses this to great effect at this time of the year when Yellow May Duns are on the water and I suspects uses it for Yellow Sallys. He usually fishes this as a team of three, on the top dropper, to ensure it fishes on or the near the water surface as possible.  He ties this on size 12, with his beloved Partridge L3A. I have a 100 size 12 L3A, by mistake. I ordered 100 size 14 and received 12s instead. In terms of the hackle of the fly, I needed to dye a cape for this and again fortunate enough to have a spare white hen cape. I dyed this with veniards yellow dye, a 1/4 teaspoon but kept the cape in the dye bath for a period of say five minutes or so. The result is a very pale yellow/primrose cape.

It was interesting to hear Edwards state how fish take Yellow May Duns, refuting some past authors' speculations or even inisting they may not be interested in them. I have personally never imitated the Yellow May Duns before - as never came across them on my home rivers back in Ireland.  I have used the yellow sally to good effect and of the opinion trout fed on them. On several occasions in June, I failed to notice too many on the water. He makes the point that such a sparse hatch appears to incite the fish to take when they come across an artifical on the water.  We may have passed the time for Yellow May Duns. The above patterns should of use for Sallys and olives. One final thing. On the DVD he commented on 'three greatest books', mentioning the Practical Angler by WC Stewart, Edmonds and Lee, but the third, he failed to say? Maybe he did and I did not pick it up! I would love to know what this third greatest book was and if he was referring to three greatest books on fishing or simply books on north country fishing/wet fly fishing. Anybody know? Thanks for reading this post!