TROUT FLIES

A look at trout flies, primarily for brown trout fly fishing in the UK, in particular on Scottish trout lochs and rivers; at the main types of trout fly, including wet flies for loch and river, dry flies, nymphs and streamers; at trout fly tying, featuring examples of renowned traditional Scottish and English trout fly patterns; something of the history and evolution of the trout fly, focussing on the classic traditional trout flies devised over the centuries for fly fishing on the lochs and rivers of Scotland, many still as popular and effective today as they ever were.

Greenwell's Glory Trout Fly

The Butcher Trout Fly

Mallard and Claret Trout Fly

flies by Grays of Kilsyth

History of the Trout Fly

Angling for fish such as trout with artificial flies dates back to the 2nd century, when the Roman, Caudius Aelianus wrote about the practice of Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River. The artificial fly used had a red wool body with two wax coloured feathers “which grow under a cock’s wattles” wound over the wool. This may have resembled a Red Palmer or Soldier Palmer trout fly of today.

In Great Britain, little was written on trout flies and fly fishing until the publication in 1496 of “The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle”, by Dame Juliana Berners. Trout fly fishing grew in popularity through the nineteenth century. Trout fly fishing clubs were established and books appeared on trout fly tying and trout fly fishing techniques. Since then, trout fly fishing has become an extremely popular and enduring pastime the world over.

In "An Angler's Entomology", J. R. Harris wrote in 1952, "Anglers, of all human groups devoted to a hobby or a sport, are perhaps the most strongly obsessed with their occupation and with all that belongs to it. Indeed, the fact that sporting fish feed primarily on insects and can be caught by devices which simulate these insects, has been the basis for a scientific literature and an equally astonishing display of invention in fly tying". This sums up nicely the essence of trout fly fishing and the preoccupation of the fly fisherman with the artificial fly he offers to his quarry, the trout ... and perhaps explains why you are reading this now.

In most, though not all trout fishing situations, trout fly selection is often crucial to success. As A. Courtney Williams wrote in "A dictionary of Trout Flies", "To the fly-fisher, the artificial fly must be a vital link in his outfit. The most expensive rod, reel and line will avail him but little if the fly he chooses fails to attract fish".

Trout Flies - The Early Days in Scotland

That is not to say that precise imitation is necessary, a point well expressed by W. C. Stewart in "The Practical Angler" as early as  1857.  ".... in practice it has been proved beyond doubt that a  black, brown, red and dun-coloured fly, used together, and varied in size according to circumstances, will at any time kill as well, and even better, than the most elaborate collection arranged for every month of the year. If trout are at all inclined to rise, one or other of the above will be found inviting. It is quite clear that whatever the angler's opinion with regard to flies may be - whether he believes that he must have an imitation of some insect on the water at the time, that he must have a fly of the same colour as the majority of those on the water, or with ourselves holds neither of these opinions; if he has four flies such as those mentioned above, he cannot be very far off the mark, as these comprise all the leading colours of which insects generally are." Stewart promoted the use of simple, sparse yet carefully tied, spider patterns for the most part. He expressed the reasonable view that "The great point, then, in fly-dressing, is to make the artificial fly resemble the natural insect in shape, and the great characteristic of all river insects is extreme lightness and neatness of form".... and very effective they were too in catching Scottish trout (and English trout, as evidenced by the efficacy of the similar style of North Country Spiders used south of the border), in all probability owing primarily to their simplicity. Examples of the kind of trout flies favoured by Stewart are illustrated below.

Stewart's Trout Flies

Early Trout Flies - Stewart's Black Spider

Early Trout Flies - Stewart's Dun Spider

Early Trout Flies - Stewart's Red Spider

Stewart's Black Spider

Stewart's Dun Spider

Stewart's Red Spider

Artificial trout flies used by Clyde anglers were traditionally designed along similar lines, generally sparsely and lightly dressed, both with and without wings, which were generally slim and delicate. We are indebted to John Reid for "Clyde Style Flies" in which he describes in detail the unique style of trout fishing flies, in the main river flies like the Hen Blackie, Grey Hen and Rusty, Mavis and Black, Pope's Fancy, Sand Fly, White Tip, Magpie Tail, Lark and Grey, Cran Swallow, and many more specific Clyde dressings, together with other traditional patterns, nymphs, wet flies and dry flies, such as the Greenwell's Glory, all dressed in the sparse and slim Clyde Style, to better imitate the insects of the Clyde. A few examples of Clyde Style flies are illustrated below.

Clyde Style Trout Flies

Clyde Style Greenwell's Glory

Clyde Style Reid's Assassin

Clyde Style Hen Blackie

Clyde Style Greenwell's

Reid's Assassin

 Clyde Hen Blackie

See also this little Book of Flies , written by Tom Forsyth of Lesmahagow through the middle part of the twentieth century, transcribed from his hand-written notebook and published for the first time in August 2007 on the Trout and Salmon Fishing website. He lists the dressings of the many fly patterns he and others used in a lifetime of fly fishing on the Clyde and other Scottish rivers. Like his contemporary, John Reid, he has given us valuable knowledge of the trout flies which were popular in Scotland during the last century. The listed dressings of more than a hundred “Clyde Style” flies, slender and delicate patterns unique to that great Scottish trout and grayling river, are of particular interest to the modern day fly fishermen and those who tie their own flies. He also includes a "Monthly Guide to Clyde Wet Flies", which suggests suitable patterns for every month throughout the Clyde fishing season. Below I illustrate just one page from Tom Forsyth's little book:

Tom Forsyth's Book of Flies

For many of us, though, the term "Scottish trout flies" will bring to mind the many beautiful well known loch fly patterns, for the most part simple trout flies dressed using the hair and feather of native animals and birds, their origins lost in time but still as effective as ever, taking baskets of trout for those who ply their craft on the Scottish Lochs. Some examples are listed below.

Scottish Loch Trout Wet Flies

See fly photographs in the panel above right.

Greenwell's Glory

The famous Greenwell's Glory was tied in 1854  by James Wright,  of Sprouston on the River Tweed, at the request of Canon William Greenwell of Durham, and has since become one of the most widely used of all trout flies. Tied either as a wet or dry fly, or adapted as a nymph, it is an excellent representation of an olive.

Mallard and Claret

The Mallard and Claret, like its relative, the Grouse and Claret, is a superb general loch fly pattern. Few loch fly boxes will not have a few of both. A favourite as a dropper fly for many loch fishermen here in Scotland. The pattern is said to have been created by William Murdoch of Aberdeen,

Grouse and Green

The Grouse and Green is one among a series of patterns dressed with a wing made from the tail feathers of a grouse. Though not as much used as the Grouse and Claret, it is nevertheless a good sedge, or caddis fly, imitation, a good choice for a summer evening on the loch.

Woodcock and Yellow

The woodcock and Yellow is probably the best known and most used of the Woodcock trout fly series, a good caddis or sedge representation used by many loch fishermen to good effect on summer evenings. It is also a favourite of many Scottish sea trout fishermen who fish the rivers at night.

Blae and Black

A very old Scottish loch fly, its beginnings unclear, the Blae and Black is likely taken by the trout for a hatching midge. It is at its best fished early in the season as a dropper on a cast of three or four.

Peter Ross

This loch fly is a variant of the Teal and Red, created at the turn of the century by Peter Ross of Killin on the shores of Loch Tay. It is popular among many loch fishers, though others have little luck with it. Possibly taken by the trout for a shrimp or, more likely, a small fish, the Peter Ross is a sound choice as a tail fly.

Black Pennell

The Black Pennell takes its name from its creator H. Cholmondeley Pennell, who devised it in the nineteenth century. It is popular as a bob fly on highland lochs, particularly effective in early season in a hatch of black midges.

Zulu

The Black Zulu is said to have been banned from use in fishing competitions because of its effectiveness. It is normally fished as a bob fly, tripped over the top of the waves with a good wind on the loch. The Blue Zulu, which adds a blue hackle at the front, is a favourite variant, almost as effective as the black version.

Red Palmer

On the remote lochs of the Northern Highlands, there are not many flies which can compete with the Red Palmer as a taker of loch trout, other than maybe the Black Zulu. It is especially effective employed on the bob in a good wave. Probably an even more used variant is the Soldier Palmer, which has a tail of red wool added.

Teal Blue and Silver

The Teal Blue and Silver is to be found in most sea trout fly boxes. A great favourite, in sizes 10 to 6, on British sea trout rivers for night fishing and for daytime loch fishing. In smaller sizes, it can also be a very useful brown trout fly in the smaller sizes of 14 to 10.

Cinnamon and Gold

A variant of the old pattern, the Cinnamon fly, the Cinnamon and Gold is effective, particularly in the smaller sizes as a tail fly, an attractor pattern which might be taken for a variety of creatures, perhaps a small fish or maybe a hatching sedge.

Dunkeld

The trout pattern is a cut down or modified version of the Dunkeld salmon fly. Like the Cinnamon and Gold and Kingfisher Butcher, it is a good attractor pattern on most Scottish lochs. It is a great favourite of many fished as a small fish imitation on the tail of a cast. As a sea trout fly for night fishing it is also held in high regard.

Butcher

In the view of R. C. Bridgett, "The most deadly loch fly ever invented, dressed with split wings well laid back, used on the bob and made to trip across the waves, it is an exceedingly reliable fly on every loch that I have fished. If winged in the ordinary way it is quite a good tail fly and used by many in this position with considerable effect". Said to have been created in the early nineteenth century by Messrs Jewhurst and Moon, who were butchers to trade. It was originally known as Moon's Fly, but was renamed "Butcher", after its creators rather than for its killing properties on the loch.

Alaxandra

The Alexandra was originally called the "Lady of the Lake" but was renamed in the late nineteenth century after Princess Alexandra. Some doubt remains over its creator. Some say it was devised by Dr John Brunton, of the Gresham Fishing Society and inventor of Brunton's Fancy. Others give the credit to W.G. Turle of Newton Stacey, Stockbridge. An extremely successful attractor patter, like the Zulu it is reported to have been banned at one time. It is also a top sea trout fly, popular for night fishing throughout the British Isles.

Kate McLaren

First dressed in 1934 by William J. Robertson of Glasgow for John McLaren, and named after his wife, it was popularised by their son Charles in his book, The Art of Sea Trout Fishing, published in 1963. This fly has remained popular on the northern lochs for sea trout and brown trout and has gained favour with many loch fishermen throughout Scotland and farther afield, usually employed as a top dropper on a loch fly cast.

Boxed selections of salmon, sea trout and trout flies are available online, with free worldwide shipping, from Grays of Kilsyth

 

Examples of Trout Flies

We generally categorise trout flies into groups, either in terms of the stage of insect life they represent or in terms of the way they are fished, for example nymphs, dry flies, loch wet flies or streamers and lures. There follows a brief description of each of these trout fly types, with a few illustrated examples.

Scottish Loch Trout Flies (Wet Flies)

The history of Scottish trout flies is a rich and colourful one. The origin of many of the famous trout fly patterns of the last century, wet flies still in common use today, is unclear, lost in folklore and legend. But of one thing we can be sure. The many traditional loch wet fly patterns still in use today, survived because they have continued to catch trout. The have proven their worth over the centuries, rewarding generations of Scottish loch fishers with baskets of native brown trout. Many have names renowned among trout fishermen - Black Pennell, Greenwell's Glory, Mallard and Claret, Cinnamon and Gold, Silver Butcher, Blae and Black, Woodcock and Yellow, Peter Ross, Soldier Palmer, Teal and Silver, to name but a few.

Trout Fly Tying

Illustrated below, along with the materials required to tie them, is a small selection of some of these most famous traditional Scottish loch trout flies, usually fished on a cast of three flies, from boat or bank. Most are old patterns, their creators unknown, which have survived over the years because they work. They can be relied upon to take baskets of loch brown trout throughout the Scottish mainland and the Islands, and elsewhere too.

Blae and Black trout fly

Grouse and Green Trout Fly

Blae and Black

Grouse and Green

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: black floss, wool or seal's fur
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Wing: grey mallard
Hackle: black hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: green wool or seal's fur
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Wing: grouse centre tail
Hackle: brown hen
   

Cinnamon and Gold Trout Fly

Greenwell's Glory Trout Fly

Cinnamon and Gold

Greenwell's Glory

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: flat gold tinsel
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: speckled hen
Hackle: brown hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Body: waxed yellow silk
Rib: fine oval gold tinsel
Wing: grey mallard
Hackle: greenwells hen
   

Mallard and Claret Trout Fly

Dunkeld Trout Fly

Mallard and Claret

Dunkeld

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: claret wool or seal's fur
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: bronze mallard (folded)
Hackle: brown or black hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant crest
Body: flat gold tinsel
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: bronze mallard (folded)
Hackle: orange cock palmered
Jungle cock cheeks may be added
   

Butcher Trout Fly

Red Palmer Trout Fly

Butcher

Red Palmer

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: red ibis or substitute
Body: silver tinsel
Rib: oval silver tinsel or wire
Wing: mallard blues
Hackle: black hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Body: red wool or seal's fur
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Hackle: palmered brown hen
   

Peter Ross Trout Fly

Zulu Trout Fly

Peter Ross

Zulu

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: silver tinsel/red seals fur
Rib: oval silver tinsel or wire
Wing: teal
Hackle: black hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: red wool
Body: black wool or seals fur
Rib: oval silver tinsel or wire
Hackle: black hen palmered
   

Woodcock and Yellow Trout Fly

Black Pennell Trout Fly

Woodcock and Yellow

Black Pennell

Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: yellow wool or seal's fur
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: Woodcock
Hackle: brown hen
Hook: 14 to 10
Tail: golden pheasant tippets
Body: black floss
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Hackle: black hen
   

Trout Dry Flies

The dry fly angler seeks to match any likely hatch of insects which might occur on loch or stream.  No matter what fly might appear on the water, a suitable imitation, in terms of colour and size, should be presented to the trout, whether it be a Rough Olive or Greenwell's Glory to imitate an early season hatch of large Dark Olives (Baetis rhodani); a March Brown for an appearance of March Browns (Rhithrogena germanica) in early Spring; a Blue Quill or Pale Watery Dun for the Pale Watery (Baetis fuscatus); a Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear or Medium Olive Dun for a hatch of Medium Olives (Baetis tenax); a Pheasant Tail or Blue Winged Olive in the event of a high summer hatch of Blue Winged Olives (Ephemeralla ignita); an Olive Quill or Blue Dun to represent the Olive Upright (Rhithrogena semicolorata); a Coch y Bonddu as a beetle imitation; a Black Gnat or Black Spider for a mid-summer swarm of Black Gnats (Bibio johannis);  or a Brown, Silver or Cinnamon Sedge for those long summer evenings on river or loch. Just a few popular dry flies from the wide range of British traditional dry fly patterns are shown below.

Black Gnat  Dry Fly Hare's Ear Dry Fly

Black Gnat Dry Fly

Hare's Ear Dry Fly

   
Lunn's Particular Dry Fly Blue Quill Dry Fly

Lunn's Particular Dry Fly

Blue Quill Dry Fly

   

Trout Nymphs

No matter what the trout may be feeding on beneath the surface of loch or stream, a suitable imitation should be found to match it, presented at an appropriate depth, and behaving in a realistic way: from the Sedge or Caddis fly (Trichoptera), first as cased caddis (sedge larva) and later as the more mobile plump pupa, taken eagerly by the trout as it emerges as an adult sedge, to the nymphs of the upwinged flies (Ephemeroptera), the olives and mayflies of river and lake; from the stonefly nymphs (Plecoptera) of the river to the midges or buzzers (Chronomids) of the lake in their various incarnations of bloodworm or midge larva, free swimming midge pupa or hatching midge;  from the Corixa in the stillwater shallows to the larger nymph of the Damsel fly (Agrion virgo) or the tasty freshwater shrimp.

Black Nymph Hare's Ear Nymph

Black Nymph

Hare's Ear Nymph

   
Pheasant Tail Nymph Amber Nymph

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Amber Nymph

   

Trout Lures and Streamers

Lures and streamers, representing either small fish or the larger species of nymph, are most commonly used in the UK for rainbow trout in stocked fisheries and sometimes for brown trout in river or lake but may also be used for other predatory species, such as pike, perch or zander in fresh water or for predatory saltwater species such as mackerel, pollack and bass. Just a few from the great variety of popular trout streamers and lures are shown below.

Trout Lures and Streamers

Trout Lures and Streamers

 

Resources

Trout & Salmon Flies

Trout & Salmon Fishing

Fly Tying

Sea Trout Flies

Salmon Flies

The Tube Fly

Tube Flies

UK Fly dressing Forum

Sea Trout Fishing

Fly Fishing Knots

 

 
 

trout flies