The Silver Doctor
Like many others, who have been, or are involved in fly tying, researching the history and the subsequent investigation, one normally approaches the subject knowing that it rarely produces all the information required, and that due to the passage of time, one would be lucky to establish with any certainty, the genuine creator including where and when it was first made, any additional information is considered a bonus. However, I have also learned over the years, that there are many occasions when someone, or something can suddenly shed light on a subject, or a fly that has lain in the darkness for decades, sometimes centuries, with no apparent hope of filling in the missing details.
A case in point is the 'Garry Dog' which appeared in my previous article, where a chance meeting by a fly fishing enthusiast at an annual fly fishing meeting, discovered a descendant of the actual creator of the Garry, who as well as having additional information, also had photographs of 'Garry the Dog' which hitherto, had been unknown and most likely unseen in the public eye. Although of a fairly modern creation, being made around the mid 1920's, this 90 year old fly (dog), was able to have some meat placed back on its weary old bones.
That said, many old British flies are extremely well documented and we are lucky enough in this county to have a wealth of well researched publications that shed an historical light on many of our old classics. The main problem is identifying the correct book, a mistake I have made on a number of occasions.
If you want to locate a pattern or one of its variants from the 16th century, there is probably no better place to start than with Dr Andrew Herds excellent works 'Salmon Fly Patterns' - Volumes 1-3, in which he has spent many years researching. This is not a plug for Dr Herd, as I do not know the man, but I have his 2nd and 3rd Volumes which I have always found illuminating. Sadly his first volume is extremely hard to get hold of, but I have great faith in my family members who I have asked to try and locate it, and with Xmas just around the corner, who knows!
Anyway back to the Blog......
Continuing the theme of my recent visit to Sprouston, Roxburghshire and the story of the 'Garry Dog' salmon fly, it would be remiss of me, if I failed to mention some other noteworthy flies that have also originated from this small Scottish village. All are classics and rightly deserve the full recognition they receive today.
Much has been written over the years concerning the 'Silver Doctor', some myth, some fanciful and some totally inaccurate. Strangely, it was seeing so many incorrect writings of so many of our historical flies over the years, that prompted me to always make my own investigations into their history, and try, in my own limited way, to place fact, where fiction was present.
The series of 'Doctor' flies are still widely used today and have now been in use for nearly 200 years, not a bad record for the one man from a small village who created them, albeit a very talented fly tier, who actually won an award at the 1862 Worlds Exhibition for excellence.
The trilogy of Doctors are strikingly different and recognisable due to their red heads, something of a novelty back in the 1800's. The 'Silver Doctor' was believed to have been the last of the triple combination, and was created around 1850 by James Wright of Sprouston in Roxburghshire, primarily for use on the River Tweed. His first 'Doctor' being the 'Blue' around 1830, followed by the 'Black' in 1845. James was a prolific fly tier and is also credited with other flies such as the exquisite 'Thunder & Lightning', the 'Black & Yellow' as well as 'Greenwells Glory' tied in 1854 for the Canon William Greenwell of Durham.
His old house apparently still exists in Sprouston as well as the original serving hatch from where his flies were sold. James's son John, another capable fly tier also created the 'Garry Dog' around 1920 in his tackle shop in Kelso, as reported in my previous article. A talented Scottish family who's names will be long remembered within the fly tying family of modern fly fishing enthusiasts.
The first 'Silver Doctor' was a full mixed wing salmon fly that incorporated many materials that are either no longer used, or available today. There are a number of varying patterns that are recorded by the likes of Kelson, Hale, Francis, Hardy and Maxwell to name a few. Sadly Wrights original recipe seems to have been lost or corrupted over time, so we will have to rely on George Kelson's pattern from 'The Salmon Fly' 1895 in this instance. However, given Kelson's reputation for changing patterns, this one may not be exactly as James Wright intended. Nonetheless, it gives us a good flavour of this streamlined and attractive fly that has been used on our rivers very successfully, as well as in Ireland, Canada and Norway.
As mentioned previously, the 'Doctors' are renowned for their striking red heads, so it may be surprising for some to learn, that the 'Silver Doctor' was also produced with a black head and butt, this appears to have been fairly short lived, and anglers on the River Tweed returned to the more traditional red butt and head. I can find no reference of when this change took place, but would be interested if any readers can shed any light on this particular area.
As with any information shared on a public platform, if I have made any errors they are solely mine, based on my research conducted in good faith, and would welcome any comments, criticism or supported corrections for the good of the fly fishing community.
Silver Doctor (Kelson Pattern 1895)
Tag: Silver twist with yellow silk.
Tail: A topping.
Butt: Scarlet wool.
Body: Silver tinsel.
Ribs: Silver tinsel oval.
Throat: A blue hackle and gallina.
Wings: Strands of tippet, summer duck, pintail, golden pheasant tail, swan dyed light yellow and light blue, bustard, mallard and a topping.
Head: Scarlet wool.