This latest installment of Angling Advise from Beyond is from Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (pub. 1886), the first book by Frederic M. Halford, (1844-1914).
We’ve all heard of Frederic Halford and our first thought is that he was a “Dry-Fly Snob”, this may be true, I don’t know. But after casually perusing the pages of this book – I am very impressed. I am no expert in fly fishing history, so maybe it’s just me but, I am very surprised by the state of fly fishing and fly tying in the late 1800’s as evidenced by Halford’s book. Basically – It’s all there. You could throw away all your modern and “innovative” books on fly tying and use this 120-yr old book and you would catch fish. I honestly don’t think you would be at a disadvantage if you stuck to the patterns outlined in Halford’s book.
It’s all in there; mayflies, caddis flies, midges, terrestrials (ants), quill body flies, thread-body flies, extended-body flies, down-wings, etc. Look at this pic below – this is a very serviceable caddis imitation.
The advice I’m presenting from this book is a bit humorous. It seems that good dry fly hackle has always been expensive and difficult to procure. In the following passage Halford discusses this and presents his solution. I have to think that he was laughing when he wrote this.
Of all feathers required for fly dressing, the hackle is the one to be placed first on the list, as being the most important, and, unfortunately, at the same time, the most difficult to procure. For floating flies cock hackles are so immeasurably superior, both as to their natural gloss and transparency, as well as the greater ease with which they are freed from moisture in fishing…
…Common barndoor fowls seldom produce such hackles as would please the critical eye of the connoisseur, and when it is remembered how few in number on any bird are sufficiently small to dress duns, some idea may be formed of the almost insuperable difficulty of accumulating a really serviceable stock : in fact, it is almost impossible to get cock hackles really fit for fly-making purposes, except by purchasing them at considerable cost from professional breeders, or from the fishing-tackle makers. I can only make one suggestion on the subject to amateur fly-dressers, resident in the metropolis, who do not care to pay the fancy prices asked in the shops, and that is to try and induce some of their country cousins to keep and breed fowls of the kind required, especially for the production of dun hackles.
So all you need to do to have a great supply of good-quality hackle is to convince your country relatives to breed them for you – good luck with that!
View or download Floating Flies and How to Dress Them in various formats at: