Styles of flytying vary from place to place, and especially river to river, throughout the British Isles, as well as from country to country. Scotland has long been famous for three distinct river trout styles, all of which are perhaps less welt known than they deserve. The three styles are those of the Tummel, the Clyde and the Tweed. Tweed is, of course, justifiably celebrated for its salmon fishings, but it has its own style of trout fly, so too do the Clyde and Tummel. It is the latter style about which I should like to write.
The Perthshire Tummel style of trout fly rarely appears in print. Diagram 1 shows the relationship the three mentioned styles bear to each other in terms of length of fly on the hook shank. lt is very noticeable that the Tweed style is very similar to that of the North Country wet flies which are so popular in the north of England, and whose use is slowly spreading to wherever anglers fish a wet fly. The Clyde patterns can be seen to be even lighter and shorter in length, but compared to the Tummel fly they are still medium weights.
Why are they so short in the body? The basic reason for the shortness and lightness of the body of Tummel fly is quite simple: to allow the hook to weigh the fly that is tied on it, so allowing the fly to sink rapidly to a fishing depth as soon as it touches the water. Tummel flies are designed to get down to the trout in the most natural way ‑ under their own steam; Clyde flies are fractionally slower in achieving an effective fishing depth. The small amount of dressing makes the job of the fly even easier, in that although a back cast dries the fly in the air, it gets wet again as soon as it touches the water, removing the tendency of a more heavily dressed fly to sink slowly to the proper depth.
You will note, of course, that the hackle is a significant element in the Tummel fly, and this spreads beautifully, when cast upstream, as soon as the fly gets wet. Fished downstream the hackle readily conforms to a nymph shape, especially if there is a thorax tied behind the hackle, although the flies were originally designed for upstream work.
So, when fishing these flies it is just as worth while to fish upstream as downstream, and often more effective; it is well worth the try, and a pull is always translated into a movement upstream of line or leader knot, or a marked halt in progress of the line towards you. Give it a try, and you will be surprised at the ease with which you will adapt. The greats of the Nineteenth Century, such as W.C. Stewart, E. M. Tod and Mark Aitken all did it, and they depended upon the rivers for food, not just sport.
The patterns I have tied are to be seen in the photographs; note their lengths, and the fineness with which they are dressed. Incidentally, almost all the classic flies can be tied in the Tummel style, but the patterns below are very typical of the river, and of Tod's style. Only by tying the flies finely do you make sure that they do their true job ‑ sink. I have also tied, for comparison, the Greenwell's Glory as a Tweed pattern (note the upright wing). All the patterns come from Ewen M. Tod's wonderful book 'Wet Fly Fishing'. He does not always give names to the flies, but they are tied, in the Tummel style, as follows:
Body: yellow tying silk
Hackle: glossy starling neck ‑two turns. Tie a green peacock herl thorax immediately behind the hackle (three or four turns).
Body: yellow tying silk
Hackle: glossy starling neck ‑two turns.
Wing: a single upright wing (a bunch) from starling primary, keeping the lighter, inside, part of the feather to the outside.
Body: a dark quill ‑ here a dark brown, almost black, stripped cock quill works well.
Hackle: Black hen ‑ one or two turns.
Wing: starling primary with the inside outwards, and turned or rolled.
Body: yellow tying silk ‑ no rib. The silk should be gently waxed with cobblers wax, the hue getting lighter as the season progresses.
Hackle: furnace hen or cock ‑ one turn only.
Wing: inside starling primary again (as a substitute for blackbirds primary), very fine matched slips. I usually tie two fibres only for each side of the wing, and I tie the wing in (at 45') BEFORE tying in the hackle. This imparts more mobility, which is the hackles job. I recognise this is heretical, but it works.
Number 5 - 'Yellow Sally’
Body: pale yellow silk. The best I have found is 8/0 yellow Uni‑Thread.
Hackle: one turn of an olive (or buff) hen.
Wing: originally from the inside of a fieldfare's wing. The best substitute is a small bunch (ten fibres at most) of yellowy‑ginger cock fibre, tied at 45'.
Number 6 - 'Quill Gnat’
Body: dark peacock quill from the eye‑feather. Note that Peacock quill can be easily stripped by immersing it carefully in household bleach, and washing thoroughly after the fuzz has gone. Always soak peacock quill in water before attempting to use it, otherwise it is much more ready to split or break.
Hackle: red game hen.
Wing: two fibres of snipe primary paired, set at 45'
'Number7 - 'Ginger Quill’
Body: as for Number 6
Hackle: a gingery hen
Wing: two opposed fibres from a starling primary.
General Tying Tips
Nowadays, I always tie North Country and Scottish wet patterns on Partridge Z2 hooks. These are straight‑eyed hooks, which gives them a better profile, and are wide gape, short shank. When the original flies (which did so much damage) were tied hook to gut, and as Diagram 2 shows, they had a different attitude in the water, compared with a modern down‑eyed fly. In that so many fish were caught by these past experts, I feel we should all give ourselves as much chance as possible ‑ this presentation is nearer than any other to the already proven methods of the last century.
For flyfishers who want barbless hooks, I can only recommend Partridge CS20 hooks. Regrettably the smallest Partridge make are size 18, but these do a good job and they are an extremely satisfying hook to tie on. A size 18 tied Tummel style, with a short hackle is the equivalent of a normal size 22.
I invariably tie with 8 / 0 thread and it rarely Iets me down. On a fly as sparsely dressed as those of the Tummel (which, incidentally, catch fish for me almost everywhere, including stillwaters) there is no excuse for not using fine thread. 12/0 ‑ 14/0 is in fact a little too fine, especially when it is used to tie the minuscule body. The body does have a purpose, and should not be ignored simply because it is short.
Cleanliness and Colour
Wash your hands before you start! Always keep materials packaged when not in use. The amount of dust there is connected with a normal room in your house is amazed. lt also keeps the moths away! Further, when tying these flies what little material is used should be of the best colour. The short body is a fundamental part of the fly, and must be shown off to the best of your materials ability. But make sure your colours are natural, not dyed. Dyed colours are generally best left for lures and salmon flies.
Try to remember that although the fly looks absurdly short to you, the fish will see what they want to. If your fly is presented at the right depth in the right attitude, you will have no trouble catching a nice basket. But do use the best materials, which are clean and bright and natural in colour. The sparseness of the fly actually becomes an advantage, acting as a trigger to the fish, and yet not wasting time or material in the tying. After all, why spend more time at your vice, and less time at your ether vice.
Note: Further articles will deal with the Clyde and Tweed styles of tying, and go on to look at Wharfe style patterns, and further styles which have evolved elsewhere in the British Isles, as well as abroad.
FLYDRESSER Summer 1996