The Wharfe Flies of
Jim Wynn (I898-I974)
Jim Wynn survived the First World War with the legacy of a limp. This did not prevent him becoming a well‑known and liked man in the area of the River Wharfe, a river that stands high in the estimation of every North Country angler. He learnt his trade practically, first on the Fairfield Hall Estate, and later as River Keeper for the Bradford Waltonians. In the process of his work he tied his own flies, sometimes modifying existing patterns, and often
When I first came across the published version of his notebooks of fly patterns I was, as an historian, quite thrilled. Here was the real thing, and I was about to fish this fabled river for the first time. What was more, having tied the flies, I fished them and they worked! They have also worked well on other rivers, including Tweed, the Ettrick, the Cound, the ltchen and the Severn.
What is perhaps most noticeable is that JW (as I shall call him, in the modern style) utilised modern materials to make older patterns a little more obvious to the fish. The schools of thought on tinsels, coloured varnishes etc. seem to be polarised into totally anti and totally pro, with no middle ground. As a professional fly dresser I am sometimes asked to tie a fly which looks a bit OTT., but if they catch fish, who am I to argue? JW's flies however add just a smidgen of tinsel or other colour to add to the value of the pattern by making it either more obvious or more lifelike, or even both.
The Published Version
The contents of JW's notebooks, with a valuable commentary and a postscript by Leslie Magee were put together by Professor Tom Cross, from whom copies are available (and see post ). There are 34 dry patterns, and (in keeping with the North Country wet fly tradition) 49 wet patterns. Some of them can no longer be reproduced accurately, for earlier ease of access to the water rail, fieldfare, throstle and brown owl, as well as many other birds, is now either prohibited by the wildlife protection Acts, or they are just no longer around.
I decided, therefore, only to tie patterns which were possible from materials easily and readily available. So, I have chosen a mixture ‑ dry and wet ‑ to try to present JW's flies as they would have been. The flies are:
Little Pheasant Tail
Iron Blue Dun
Each pattern can be tied readily, and each pattern has its application on waters other than the Wharfe. I am often asked if regional flies are any good elsewhere; I can honestly reply that I a client in Nebraska and another in ltaly, and yet another in Australia who fish my spiderpatterns, and some of JW's patterns, and keep coming back for more. And those really canny fishermen of my own homeland (North of the long loch) and in Ireland seem unable to get enough!
Hook: 16 (or can be 14 if Partridge Z2)
Body: Black tying silk (or black quill)
Hackle: Badger Hen
Head: Black silk.
Note: as you will see from the photograph, this is a slight variation on the plainer Black Gnat or Spider, but benefits from the hint of white in the hackle.
A good fly to fish on point or on the dropper.
Hook: the best is 16, but 14/18 can also be used
Body: various silk colours. Claret (waxed with bootmaker's wax to darken it), copper try rustybrown from Uni‑Thread), dark purple, orange brown or ash (grey, but dull, light grey)
Hackle: a dark bloa feather from the outer coverts of a snipe, or an underwing snipe feather. Note: a range of colours is very valuable, and a quill body can also be very effective.
Body: the usual yellow/primrose silk dubbed with bootmaker's wax and ribbed with fine gold wire (a maximum of four turns)
Thorax: this is where the thought comes in ‑a thorax of blue rabbit fur is added, to alter the whole concept of the fly, yet retain the olive body with its distinctive gold rib.
Hackle: another change ‑a small feather from under a waterhen wing.
Note: JW specifies a young waterhen, before the first moult. I cannot guarantee such a supply, and so use the lightest coloured feathers.
This pattern is so well known in the North that it stands, perhaps with the Waterhen Bloa and the Snipe and Purple, as one of a prime choice for all waters, all conditions, and all‑season. JW however has put some thought into slight variations en the original theme.
Body: a rich orange silk fibbed with orange tinsel, or orange tinsel coated with clear varnish (which lasts longer).
Hackle: a well dappled feather, fairly dark, from the back of the bird .
Thorax: once more, the originality of the man shows ‑red bronze peacock herl.
Head: bronze peacock herl with a turn of red tinsel for the eyes.
Note: I get all my partridge from one source, Steve Cooper, whose address and telephone number are to be found at the end of this article. As far as the tinsels are concerned, Lureflash do a mixed tinsel bundle, in which you will find the required strands which are fine enough for this fly. As for the peacock herl, I use the longer strands from sword feathers, which are again fine enough for the head. You can use the ordinary eye feather for the thorax.
Little Pheasant Tail
Hook: I4 or I6
Butt: three or four turns of gold lurex (use the finest diameter you can get)
Thorax: lumpy, cross‑wound pheasant tail fibres
Hackle: very sparse brown partridge (one turn is more than enough)
Two for the price of one now, as JW has tyings for male and female versions of the Iron Blue.
Iron Blue Dun (Male)
Body: Orange and purple silk twisted, and dubbed with mole's fur
Hackle: Iron Blue cock. Again, get out the genetic cape here.
Iron Blue Dun (Female)
Body: Coates lemon yellow terylene thread. Use any yellow thread as the base, tie on five or six turns and then put in a single strand of the Coates thread. Make the body by tying the Coates to the bend (or wherever, allowing for regional preference) and back up to the head. Tie that off and then tie in the
Hackle: light blue cock
BWO (Blue winged olive)
Hook: I2 or I4
Body: yellow silk, ribbed with gold tinsel
Hackle: luminous grey cock.
Note: a very simple version of the BWO., but it requires a careful choice of feather for the hackle. I inevitably turn to a genetic cape, and pick out the most shiny feather.
Note: these two flies can easily be fished as a pair, one on point and one on the dropper until the preference of the fish is known.
Body: ruddy purple silk
Hackle: a feather taken from underneath the wing of a snipe ‑ the light grey feathers.
Note: this fly is another stand‑by in the North and the Borders, fished at the beginning and end of the season.
Another of these flies that spring from a North
Country fly box. I know of several anglers whose only dry fly is the Grey Duster. JW once more applied a little local knowledge, and created a general purpose variant.
Body: blue/white rabbit fur dubbed onto brown silk
Hackle: badger cock
Note: you wilt find sufficient blue/white rabbit fur on a whole skin to keep you well supplied.
Tag: luminous orange wool (Lureflash do reels of a superb colour, which is also fine)
Body: silver tinsel. Catch this in at the head, and wind down, and then back, using very fine tinsel or, better still, very fine silver lurex.
Hackle: Ginger cock, well spread.
I have a client who swears by this fly, and the Shropshire pattern the Ermine Moth (of which more in a subsequent article).
The published edition of JW's flies contains a number of really helpful hints and comments on these and the other flies. When you get a copy, read it carefully before tying, as the order of things is slightly different (rather like the difference in Latin between noun cases in the British style and the European).
The essence of good fishing has always been, in my opinion, trying out the old and the new together. There are often times when only a Halford style fly will work, on other occasions a lump of wool and a hook is all that is needed. To make life fun, however, I like using my selection of options to the utmost. If the day goes well, then it is a very good idea to change fly now and again for a similar fly, but tied in a different style. If the day goes not well, then it is the only choice!
Equally, when at the bench, although I have to tie to my client's specifications, if I have any leeway, I tend to go for older patterns which use traditional materials. I have always found that the well‑tested flies of my grandfather's time do far better in the long run that fly‑by‑glitz patterns which bedeck the fishing magazines.
If I were cynical (perish the thought) I would conclude that wholesalers and fly designers work in concert to sell material sitting on the shelf!
JW spent all his life after World War 1 associated with the River Wharfe. In that time he observed life on, above and below the river season after season. His variations to standard fly patterns, and indeed his own creations were made to cope with what he saw as local variations. With the benefit of hindsight and modern published works I recognise the commonality in his flies with patterns developed elsewhere by other river watchers ‑ be it keepers, rod or (sometimes) the more nefarious. Future articles will draw attention to this phenomenon, when I look at patterns in Derbyshire, the Welsh Borders, on the Clyde and elsewhere.
For a pamphlet of all the patterns, write to:
Prof. Tom Cross,
75 St. Richard's Road
West Yorkshire LS2I 2AL
Tom Cross passed away some
time ago, so don't post to the address given for the pamphlet. I don't know
whether this can still be obtained.
If you send me a mail I will send you a copy of the pamphlet in PDF.
For some of the best feathers I know (and especially for partridge skins) contact:
Staffs STII 9EG
Tel: 0I782 388382
FLYDRESSER WINTER I996