The earliest accounts of fly fishing in Europe can be traced by literary account back to the 15th century however, it is believed that the actual practice could go back by another 200 years, possibly further.
Things have changed significantly over that period. Early man would have used material such as horse hair or linen for a fishing line, this was normally hand held or tied to a river bank or tree as an anchor. The hook would be a simple gorge made from wood or stone, covered with bait or feather to imitate a fly. This method remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The progression to the use of a pole or rod helped man push his line further into his quarries domain but it was still limited, unless using a boat.
During the 1750's documented reference was made to the use of a wire loop at the tip of a pole or rod. This allowed a longer line to have free run and allowed for much longer lengths of lines to be used, casting was essentially born. Longer lines for further casting required a storing medium for the line, so in England in the mid18th century, the first modern reel was produced. By around 1770 rods would be affixed with guides down the entire length of the rod. It can be safely said that this is when the modern rod and reel that we know today was born. The design essentially remains the same to this day, as does the challenge, it is still man against fish.
To me, the most important aspect of fly fishing is the fly itself. It’s the fly that attracts the fish, it’s the fly that imitates the correct food in the right season, producing that tantalizing ‘knock’ or ‘take’ that we all love. The expensive rod and reel you are using, or the weighty equipment you insist on wearing or strapping to yourself ‘facilitates’ the catch, but it does not actually ‘catch’ the fish. Given the right fly, you can catch fish with a length of line and feather. After all, that’s how our early ancestors fished, and they were obviously successful, as witnessed by the fact that we are all here today.
It took me many years to grasp this fact and I suppose like many fly fishermen and women who are starting out, you can tend to get sucked into the mistake of using the same fly or a small selection of flies over many years, I know I did, and I realised much later that this was a mistake. The 'Soldier Palmer' is a case in point. I used this fly constantly when I first started fishing, the reason, it caught fish when all others on the day failed. I had no knowledge of why it caught fish, but it did, so I remained faithful to it. Of course, there were many days when it didn’t work, but I stuck rigidly to my belief that it would catch something ‘shortly’. This dogged determination saw me blank on more occasions than I care to remember. Basically, I had to go back to basics, and take time to learn about the flies I used, their history, their composition and of course their performance. Not an easy thing to do when you have been fishing for several years, and you think you know it all.
It is with in mind, that I intend to cover the history, composition and performance of the flies that I frame. I have at some time or other, used most of the fly designs with varying degrees of success. But I hope it will prove useful to those people who may be starting out and want to learn something about the contents of their fly box. I do not offer an ‘expert’ opinion, simply a viewpoint from a personal perspective based on my many years of fishing and facts taken from historical data and the many books I have collected over the years.
In time honoured tradition, and because I am still drawn to this fly, the first fly to be featured in the next blog will be the ‘SOLDIER PALMER’ which is one of the flies in my Wet Fly Collection.