Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Flies of Charles Cotton, 1676



Charles Cotton was not the first Englishman to publish a list of fishing flies.  I say fishing flies as these flies, even though meant mostly to catch brown trout, were also expected to catch grayling and even sea-trout, perch and other coarse fish, though the fly angler of the time probably did not purposely pursue coarse fish with his tackle. 
    Prior to Charles Cotton, there were the works of Col. Robert Venables (The Experienced Angler, 1662), Izaak Walton, (The Compleat Angler, 1653), Richard Franck (Northern Memoirs, written in 1658, actual publication date 1694) and of course Thomas Barker with “The Art of Angling” published in 1651, reprinted as “Barkers Delight” in 1657.  Though all of these angling authors were of great interest, only Barker and Walton really contributed greatly to the sport of fly-fishing with their books.  Barker was the first to include instructions on how to tie flies, and Walton is justly famous for his wonderful advice, fly list and basic instructions.  That is not all though, appended to his 1676 edition is to be found the delightful work of Charles Cotton "Instructions how to Angle for a Trout or Grayling in a Clear Stream."
    Cotton, as well as giving plenty of good sound advice, listed no less then sixty-five trout and grayling flies, all of which appear to be original and many designed on the principles of close examination and imitation of the natural insects.  Though the language is a bit quaint by modern standards, the patterns almost alchemical in the list of ingredients needed, (though nothing like later authors were to get) the patterns are easy enough to understand once one gets the hang of it, and relatively easy to identify with modern patterns where insects are actually being copied. 
Cotton also gives very detailed instructions on how to tie these beauties, and here is where the interest of the purist fly tier should be aroused.  These instructions date from before the fly vise was commonly used, and so are all done “in hand.”  The following list of flies is taken directly from The Compleat Angler, a 1953 reprint that I have, and compared with the 1859 German edition.  It is also cross referenced with W. H. Lawrie’s 1969 American printing of “English Trout Flies” where-in can be found the following quote that about sums up the legacy of Charles Cotton:  “Dissolute, and perhaps a better poet, despite his lapses of bawdiness, than a prose writer,  yet Charles Cotton, by this one work, has ensured that so long as rivers run, and so long as Man seeks to match his wit and cunning against those of the fishes which inhabit them, his name will never be forgotten.  His writing shows him to have been an all-round angler of ability, and some of his advice is remarkably up-to-date and modern.  But then that is precisely why his work was a great one: otherwise it would not have endured.” 
I present the Flies of Charles Cotton, with excellent photography by Monte Smith, who holds copyrights to all photos on this page.(http://nwflytyer.wordpress.com)  All flies are tied on modified vintage hooks, with twisted horse-hair snoods of three, two or even one single strand, and tied with original materials as much as humanly possible to date.  All flies are also tied as per instructions given by Charles Cotton, ie, they are all tied “in-hand” meaning there was no vise used.  I have simplified the patterns though for easier comparison and modern use. Hook size was determined by much research and comparison with modern equivalent patterns where possible.  Then I found them listed in the German translation of Cotton and used those.  Paul W. Jones of Historic Angling Enterprises (http://www.historicanglingenterprises.com)  provided much encouragement and advice and materials, as well as the lovely copy of Cotton, in German.  A must have/must read for all fly tiers.  It contains much material that is not in the 1953 reprint or other English editions I have seen.  Bill Bailey (wsbailey1@msn.com) also provided much encouragement and materials, and has been especially helpful in deciphering some of the more peculiar questions about materials and old methods that have arisen in the course of this research.  He has the cobblers wax, mohair, pigs wool and other exotic materials, all dyed the correct colours using period dye stuffs and methods.  Bill is also a fount of knowledge concerning old textile dye practices.  Thank-you Paul, thank-you Monte and thank-you Bill.  With out your support and encouragement, this project would not have been the rewarding success it is becoming to me. 

The Flies of Charles Cotton
January flies
1: Red Brown
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: black cur fur over-dyed to make it red-brown dubbed on red silk
Wing: mallard, almost white
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long

2: Bright Dun Gnat
*Tying thread: Yellow  
Body: marten's fur mixed with white hare scut
Wing: white and very small
*Hook Size: 18-20
Yes, this is actual marten's fur, mixed with the white hair from under a hare's tail (or scut).  Hook size shown is size 18.
February flies
3: Lesser Red Brown

*Tying thread: Red 
Body: black pig’s wool on red silk
Wing: mallard, almost white
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long


                            
4: Plain Hackle (Palmer)
*Tying thread: Black 
Body: Black Spaniel’s fur rough, or black ostrich
Hackle: red capon
*Hook Size: 12-14
I used black spaniel and it should have been rougher I think.



5: Lesser Hackle

*Tying thread: Black
Body: black
Rib: silver twist
Hackle: red capon 
*Hook Size: 14-16
I used black rabbit here as nothing was specified except colour





6: Great Hackle
*Tying thread: Black 
Body: Black
Hackle: red capon
Wing: the tip of the hackle laid back over
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long
These look an awful lot like modern stones and caddises

7: Great Hackle
 *Tying thread: Yellow
Body: Black
Rib: gold twist
Hackle: red capon
Wing: the tip of the hackle laid back over
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long


8: Great Dun
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: dun bear's hair
Wing: grey mallard near unto his tail
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long
The two versions of Cotton I have describe this and the next fly differently.  The German version describes them both as palmers so...

"near unto his tail" the small and very pale feathers down there...

9: Great Blue Dun
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: dun bear's hair from the roots, mixed with a little blue camlet
Wing: dark grey mallard
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long
...I tied a version of each. 
The small dark feathers on a mallard drake's wing is what is being called for here I think

 10: Dark Brown

*Tying thread: Red 
Body: brown hair from a brended cow
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12-14

Brended, archaic term for brindled as far as I can make out.




March flies
 11: Whirling Dun (not the Whirling dun)
*Tying thread: Yellow
 Body: bottom fur of a squirrel's tail
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 14-16 
Underfur of a squirrel's tail, not a problem!  When I originally tied this fly, I forgot that in England at the time, it would have been the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) that they used, and I, thoughtlessly used Eastern grey (Sciurus carolinensis).  S. carolinensis has been introduced into Europe to the detriment of the native squirrels, and has also been introduced onto the west coast of the USA, with similar detrimental results.  It is the squirrel most Americans think about (it is all over city parks).  I have since retied it and the photo is of the correctly tied fly.  For more information on the European Red squirrel follow the link.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Squirrel

12: Bright Brown

*Tying thread: Red
Body: brown of spaniel or cow's flank
Wing: grey
*Hook Size: 12-14
Cow's flank on this version. 




13: Whitish Dun

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: roots of camel's hair
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12-14







14: Thorn-tree fly

*Tying thread: Black 
Body: absolute black mixed with 8 or 10 hairs of Isabella-coloured mohair
Wing: bright mallard feather
Notes: as little as can be made
*Hook Size: 14-16

Just what Isabella coloured means I eventually found here. 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabelline_(colour)



15: Blue Dun

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: the down combed from the neck of a black greyhound
Wing: As white as possible
*Hook Size: 12-14



16: Black Gnat

*Tying thread: Black 
Body: black water-dog or young coot's down
Wing: mallard drake, as white as possible
Notes: small
*Hook Size: 14-16
Black water-dog, as in Labrador or even a Portuguese water-dog.  It will also eventually be done with young coot's down also.

17: Bright Brown
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: Abortive calf after dipping in a skinners lime pits, a bright gold colour
Wing: feather of brown hen
*Hook Size: 12-14

April flies
18: Small Bright Brown

*Tying thread: Red 
Body: spaniel's fur
Wing: light grey
*Hook Size: 14-16






19: Dark Brown
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: dark brown and violet camlet mixed
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 14-16
Camlet:  The big dictionary  consulted originally preferred the definition to mean angora goat based materials... so I have been using dubbing of angora goat.  Wikipedia says http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camlet I may be right or I may be wrong.

20: Violet fly
*Tying thread: Dark violet 
Body: dark violet stuff
Wing: grey mallard drake's feather
*Hook Size: 14-16
Wiki gave me my first clue, but the great big dictionary defines stuff as the felted left-over fibres from weaving woolen cloth.  I took a pair of carders, cut my wool into 1/4 inch or less bits, carded it over a white piece of paper and then poured the results into a bag for storage.  The felt looks not unlike dryer lint but dubs well and can be mixed easily with other colours by the same process of 'felting' the strands.

21: Whirling Dun
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: ash coloured fox cub down
Rib: yellow silk
Wing: pale grey mallard drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12-14
Getting fox cub down is a bit of a stretch.  This is in fact the underfur, and it is from a young fox, or at least a fox of very small proportions relative to other foxes.  In Europe, it is the red fox that was used, as it is the fox they have there, so I followed suit.

22: Yellow Dun

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: camel's hair and yellow camlet or wool mixed
Wing: white-grey
*Hook Size: 12-14






23: Little Brown
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: dark brown and violet camlet mixed
Wing: grey
Notes: slender body
*Hook Size: 14-16


24: Horse-flesh fly
*Tying thread: Dark Brown
Body: blue mohair with pink and red tammy mixed in, a dark brown head
Wing: light coloured
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long
Turning to the great big dictionary again, tammy seems to be left over fibres from certain woolen industry practices.


 

May Flies
25: Turkey fly
*Tying thread: Yellow
Body: Blue stuff
Rib: yellow silk
Wing: grey mallard drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12
Exactly what shade of blue was the big question here. 



26: Great Hackle (palmer, yellow body)
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: Yellow
Rib: Gold twist
Hackle: red capon
Wing: mallard dyed yellow
*Hook Size: 12-14
Replace the mallard wing with elk hair and you have an Elk Hair Caddis, or add an over-wing of mallard primary and you have a Henryville Special

27: Black fly

*Tying thread: Black 
Body: black spaniel
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12-14

 





28: Light Brown
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: light brown on red silk, thinly dressed and well picked out to expose the silk
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12-14


29: Little Dun

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: bear's dun on yellow silk
Wing: grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 14-16
Here I had to remind myself that to be period correct, the bear to use would have been European Brown bear.  I used grizzly as they are the same species and are close enough.  

30: White Gnat

*Tying thread: Black 
Body: White with black head
Wing: pale
*Hook Size: 14-16






31: Peacock fly
*Tying thread: Red
Body: Peacock herl with red head
Wing: mallard
*Hook Size: 14-16




32: Dun-Cut
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: Bear's dun with a little blue and yellow mixed in
Wing: large, dun coloured
Head: two horns made of squirrel tail hair
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long


33: Cow-Lady
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: peacock herl
Wing: red feather or red cock's hackle fibers
Notes: a little fly
*Hook Size: 14


34: Cow Dung Fly
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: light brown and yellow mixed
Wing: dark grey drake's feather
*Hook Size: 12



35: Green Drake

*Tying thread: Green or rather yellow waxed with green wax 
Tail: sable or fitch tail
Body: camels hair, bright bears hair, the soft down combed from a hog's bristles and yellow camlet mixed, the body long
Rib: green silk or rather, yellow silk waxed with green wax
Wing: white grey mallard dyed yellow
Notes: on a large hook
*Hook Size: 8-10 2x long

36: Gray Drake

*Tying thread: Black 
Tail: black cat’s beard
Body: down of hog bristle and black spaniel’s fur mixed
Rib: black silk
Wing: black grey mallard
Notes: same size and shape as the Green Drake
*Hook Size: 8-10 2x long

37: Stone fly
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: bear's dun with a little brown and yellow camlet very well mixed, so tied as to make the fly more yellow on the belly and towards the tail then else-where
Rib: yellow silk
Wing: long, large and dark grey mallard
Notes: add 2 or 3 black cat's whiskers to the arming made to point almost upwards and widely spaced
*Hook Size: 10-12 2x long

38: Black Fly (palmer)
*Tying thread: Black 
Body: black ostrich herl
Rib: silver twist
Hackle: black cock's over-all
*Hook Size: 12 2x long



39: Little Yellow May-fly

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: bright yellow camlet
Wing: white grey mallard dyed yellow
Notes: exactly the same shape as the Green-Drake only smaller
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long




40: Camlet fly

*Tying thread: Light green, fine 
Body: dark brown shining camlet
Rib: small light green silk
Wing: double grey mallard
*Hook Size: 12-14



June Flies
 41: Owl fly

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: white weasel's tail
Wing: white-gray
Notes: for night fishing late in June
*Hook Size: 12-14
White weasel, known also as ermine.




42: Barm fly

*Tying thread: Yellow
Body: yellow-dun cat fur
Wing: grey mallard
Notes: Named for it’s yeasty colour
*Hook Size: 12-14







43: Hackle fly

*Tying thread: Purple
Body: purple
Hackle: red capon
*Hook Size: 12-14







44: Gold Twist Hackle 
*Tying thread: Purple 
Body: purple
Rib: gold twist
Hackle: red capon
*Hook Size: 12-14
I used purple mohair





45: Flesh Fly

*Tying thread: Black
Body: black squirrel's fur and blue wool mixed
Wing: grey
*Hook Size: 12-14
Natural black squirrel






46: Little Flesh Fly
*Tying thread: Black
Body: peacock herl
Wing: grey mallard drake
*Hook Size: 14-16




47: Peacock fly
*Tying thread: Black
Body: peacock herl
Wing: peacock
*Hook Size: 14-16




48: Flying Ant or Ant fly

*Tying thread: Red
Body: brown and red camlet mixed
Wing: light grey
*Hook Size: 14-16







 49: Brown Gnat

*Tying thread: Red
Body: brown and violet camlet mixed
Wing: light grey
Notes: body very slender
*Hook Size: 14-16






50: Black Gnat

*Tying thread: Black
Body: black mohair
Wing: white-grey
*Hook Size: 14-16







51: Green Grasshopper
*Tying thread: Green
Body: green and yellow wool mixed
Rib: green silk
Hackle: red capon over-all
*Hook Size: 10-12 2x long





52: Dun Grasshopper
*Tying thread: Black
Body: dun camlet
Hackle: dun hackle at the top
Notes: slender body
*Hook Size: 10-12 2x long




July Flies
53: Orange Fly

*Tying thread: Orange
Body: Orange wool
Wing: black feather
*Hook Size: 12-14 







54: White Dun

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: white mohair
Wing: blue of a grey heron's feather
*Hook Size: 14-16







55: Wasp Fly

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: either dark brown dubbing or black cat’s tail fur
Rib: yellow silk
Wing: grey mallard
*Hook Size: 10-12






56: Black Hackle

*Tying thread: Black 
Body: peacock herl
Hackle: black hackle at the head
*Hook Size: 12-14







57: Black Hackle
*Tying thread: Black 
Body: peacock herl
*Hook Size: 12-14 






58: Shell Fly
*Tying thread: Yellow
Body: yellow-green Jersey wool with white hog's wool mixed in
Notes: should be a moss-green fly
*Hook Size: 12-14 2x long




59: Black-Blue Dun
*Tying thread: Black
Body: Black Rabbit with a little yellow mixed in
Wing: blue pigeon's wing
*Hook Size: 12




August Flies
 60: Ant Fly

*Tying thread: Red 
Body: black-brown cow’s hair with a little red warped in for the tag of his tail
Wing: dark
*Hook Size: 14-16






61: Fern Fly

*Tying thread: Red 
Body: fur from hare's neck the colour of bracken ferns
Wing: darkish grey mallard
*Hook Size: 12-14







62: White Hackle
*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: white mohair
Hackle: white hackle all over
*Hook Size: 14






63: Harry Long-legs

*Tying thread: Yellow 
Body: bear's dun and blue wool mixed
Hackle: brown over-all
*Hook Size: 10-12 2x long





September Flies
64: Camel-Brown fly
*Tying thread: Red 
Body: pulled from the lime of a wall
Rib: red silk
Wing: darkish grey mallard
*Hook Size: 12-14

65: Badger Fly

*Tying thread: Yellow
Body: black badger hair mixed with softest yellow hog’s wool
*Hook Size: 14-16







* are notes taken from the German translation
Tying thread unless specified is Pearsalls gossamer, defaulting to black or white if I did not have the "correct" thread at the time.

Photography by Monte Smith, who holds copyrights to all photos on this page, even the ones I have edited.(http://nwflytyer.wordpress.com)

9 comments:

  1. Testing comment feature...feel free to delete this if you want.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Andrew,
    I caught several trout saturday on various flies during a baetis hatch using my horsehair leader with a two hair tippet. I'll send photos as soon as I learn how.
    Yes I know baetis has been re-classified but I still call them baetis.

    ReplyDelete
  3. what do you mean by silver or gold twist exactly?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah Mike! Please do send photos, I would love to see them. What fly did you use? Was it the soldier type fly?

    Silver or gold twist, what is often called silver or gold thread, or in modern parlance, oval silver or gold tinsel. I use a medium fine or fine French for silver, and I have a spool of medium fine gold that I purchased some 35 years ago and never used, that has a lovely antique gold look to it. I wish now I had bought much more of it though.

    ReplyDelete
  5. what is the soldier type fly?

    ReplyDelete
  6. The soldier palmer pattern is as follows

    Body: red wool
    Hackle: red capon
    Rib: fine oval gold

    it is a palmer of course, and goes WAY back in time...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Only just found your blog. It is an excellent part of the blogosphere and I look forward to the valuable insights you are giving us into these old patterns. I still use some of them to this day: Charles Cotton's Black Fly (your #38 above) is a superb fake of the Hawthorn Fly. It once caught me a 19.5 inch grayling less than 150 yards downstream of Charles Cotton's Fishing House...

    Keep 'em coming. It's a good read.


    RR

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank-you! In my soon to be published book, The History and Evolution of the trout Fly, part 1, I go much more into detail, and as I explore the history from pre-Macedonia to the year 1800, you can see how Cotton's lovely flies become what will eventually be our modern English stand-by's.

    ReplyDelete