A while back I set myself a fun little project by arriving at the waterside without my usual box of flies. Instead I carried just rod and line, a little sewing thread, a few hooks and some basic tying tools.
Three hundred miles from home, the challenge was to scavenge tying materials locally from the landscape, tie some passable flies and go out and catch some wild trout with them. I found horse hair stuck on a wire fence, a scrap of sheep’s fleece caught on a thistle and sea-wet seagull feathers on the Atlantic shore. From these I fashioned hackled wet flies – they probably wouldn’t win any fly tying competitions but they did catch some pretty brown trout.
It led me to thinking how our ancestors approached fly tying, remote as they were in time and space from any Orvis store. How resourceful they were and how much more resonant their fly patterns are, borne of and from the landscapes around them. Folk patterns and hence Folk Flies. It’s given me a code to follow once in a while, with my tying and fishing – to originate successful, fish catching fly patterns using natural, locally gathered materials.
So when I’m in folk fly mode, gone is the UV fritz, chenille and genetic capes. Gone too is over-adorned dressing. Folk flies should be honest (and some may say rustic) fish catchers, simple to tie and simple to fish. And to me it seems fitting in a way, to fish them on a fixed line rod.
The flies pictured above are some of my recent folk fly creations, all tied using molted breast feathers from the mallard duck, found on the bank of a local stream.
Top is my loose take on the Green Drake (mayfly) or ‘yellow fly’ from ‘A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle’ Dame Juliana Berners 1496 :
The yelow flye. The body of yelow wull: the wynges of the redde cocke hakyll & of the drake”
In my version the body is of hemp twine and the wings are actually of mallard duck rather than drake but take the place of the red cock hackle. Tied on a size 14 barbless, black nickle hook. I couldn’t resist tying in a tail from mallard fibers too.
The middle fly – a sedge – is also made from mallard duck – the wings from molted breast feathers found on the river bank. The body is from a dubbing rope of the downy filaments of the mallard feather.
The lower fly is also inspired by a medieval pattern I once saw a reference of, but I can’t lay my hands on it now. This time the wing slips are tied in opposing sides, top and bottom, and the body is from sheep’s fleece fibers, with the head from black sewing thread.
I use sewing thread for all of my folk flies, it’s strong and cinches down nice and tight. This is good as I don’t use varnish or glue and I find it more forgiving for those times that I am tying in hand without vice or tools. I should also add that I use only loose feathers and materials I find while I am out and about – there is no need to take a life for your materials and many species are protected in law.
I would encourage any flyfisher to take up the folk fly challenge. It’s great way to refresh your fly tying. It will bring you closer to the landscape where your fish live, and (I guarantee) a unique sense of achievement when you catch your first fish on your home tied folk fly.