Tweed Flies‑ Part 1

David Westwood

There is little doubt that Tweed is one of the most beautiful rivers to be found anywhere in the world. From its unprepossessing beginnings to the vast width of the mouth at Berwick, few rivers can cause similar excitement to the angler. Despite its world‑beating reputation for migratory fish, the river is also a great front resource, and much of it is open even as day‑ticket water. There is nothing finer that fishing a trout fly upon the great beats, and most of them are open to the average angler. In October last year my wife and 1 watched a three pound brown trout being stalked, caught, and finally landed on an Iron Blue on the hallowed waters of junction at Kelso. The proficient angler had waited, sitting on a council bench, until the fish showed, and then carefully walked out behind it, cast, and was into the fish. He was a member of Kelso Angling Association.


The Tweed is rightly famous of course for the superb Autumn run of salmon, but it also has a respectable place amongst the trout rivers of the United Kingdom. Whether in the nineteenth or the twentieth century, Tweed has provided some staggering wild trout ‑ up to six pounds weight or more. There is no doubt that the nineteenth century anglers were very adept at lifting trout, hut 1 cannot believe that these of us of the twentieth century are unable to find similar fish ‑ even if, due to angling pressure, they are fewer now than before.

Nineteenth Century

The great rods of the nineteenth century (Stoddart, Younger, Aitken, Tod, Canon Greenwell and Stewart, to name a few) all fished the Tweed as well as the other rivers, but they kept coming back. In the nineteenth century there were fewer patterns available, and therefore the patterns that worked were used year in and year out.

Eight Tweed Patterns

This article will deal with eight patterns which started life on Tweed, and which are still well worth carrying in your box. Indeed, 1 rarely start the day without one of the flies in my cast. For Tweed is often a wet‑fly river. It has a habit of getting big, and then fining down to what to many rods is a fast river; there is little point in trying to wade Tweed when it is so, and often trees and bushes render upstream dry fly difficult, no matter how experienced the rod. The locals fish wet, and 1 can find no reason to insist on any other method.

Thomas Stoddart's Professor

Stoddart advocated the impressionist style of fly, preferring to make decisions as to what to fish from his observations of the weather and the sky. But one fly that will live after him is the Professor. lt can be tied in yellow, brown or red. He liked to fish the red version when the water was "small and clear", and it is tied as follows:



Body: Red floss silk, tied rather long (long is still quite short, and only extends to between the point and the back of the barb)

Wing: Brown mallard wing feather

Hackle: A fine red or black hackle ‑ I tie the red version with a black hackle, but this is only my taste, He also recommended fishing palmered flies in these conditions, and a modern fly that is very effective is the Super Grizzly in sizes 16, 18 and 20.






When Stoddart fished the Tweed he almost certainly fished in the traditional way. This involves a cast of some two to four flies (some red s used as many as eight). The cast is made slightly upstream and across, and the cast is deemed spent almost as soon as the flies have passed the rod on their way downstream. They are not left to fish themselves out in the modern way. This involves a lot of casting, hut it is very effective. The only problem arises when fishing in higher water: the river can often be too strong. The only answer then is to fish across and down, or try a dry fly when the river is really fining down.


John Younger’s Tweed Flies


Unlike Stoddart, who was a gentleman rod, Younger was a cobbler from St. Boswells, upstream from Kelso, and not far from Melrose. He created only a few more flies than Stoddart, but in his patterns is seen the Tweed colour yellow ‑ far more obviously than before. Yellow bodied flies were standard on Tweed, no matter what the rest of the fly was made up with. lt is a colour which stands out in the often dark waters of the river, especially after a flood. I have chosen his fly for the beginning of the season as my example:

John Younger’s Tweed Fly



Body: yellow‑grey water rat fur (from near the belly) mixed with an equal amount of yellow worsted wool or mohair. This can be substituted for by using Partridge SLF Finesse yellow mixed with a small amount of SLF Midge Grey

Wing: a woodcock wing feather, rolled. For variety Younger used starling (and bunting and lark)




Mark Aitken's Flies

Almost all Aitken's flies were tied with yellow bodies. I have chosen five of his patterns.


Number 3 (Mark Aitken)


Hackle: Cinnamon hen (one, at most two, turns only).

Wing: From the back of a hen pheasant (you can also use secondary feather from the wing)

Use: In May




Number 4 (Mark Aitken)


Hackle: Small black starling, or dun feather

Wing: from the inside of woodcock wing

Use: A general fly for use all year







Number 8 (Mark Aitken)


Hackle: Black or Coch‑y‑Bonddhu

Wing: inside feather, blackbird (substitute a starling grey inner wing feather)

Use: April to June, and again in September







Number 9 (Mark Aitken)


Body: A change here ‑ use black tying silk

Hackle: Black Hen

Wing: Teal drake speckled feather

Use: April and May





Number 11 (Mark Aitken)


Hackle: grizzle hen hackle, strong blk/white markings

Wing: inside woodcock wing feather ( clear markings)

Use: Another general fly, for use all year.



Canon Greenwell and his Glory


Whether or not the Canon had seen Aitken's Number 8 or not, in May 1854 he asked james Wright, flydresser of Sprouston, to make him up some examples of the fly that was to be enshrined, in his honour, as the Greenwell's Glory. There are many versions of this fly seen scattered about in fly boxes and shops today, but there seems to have been only one true version, which is tied (see photographs) according to the original pattern:


Body: (there was no tail on the original). Yellow silk darkened to olive with cobbler's wax. The depth of colour should lighten as the season progresses.

Rib: Yellow gimp (substitute finest gold wire)

Wing: Blackbird primary fibres, bunched and tied split (not slivers as is done today). The modern substitute is starling primary fibre.

Hackle: Coch‑y‑Bonddhu ‑ black list with a sparkling ginger tip. Often substituted for today with furnace hen.



Tying Notes


1. All Tweed style flies, when winged, should have an upright wing. Tie in the wing as normal, then pass a couple of turns of thread behind the wing to force it up to a 90° angle with the shank.


Note: The original patterns are still in use today on the Tweed but with angled wings to suit the downstream style of wet fly fishing.


2. Tweed fly bodies do not (except where noted) extend back on the shank further than the barb, and are normally slightly shorter than that. They are often no more than tying silk tied back in close, touching turns, and then returned over the first layer to where the wing is to be lied in.


3. I have always tied in the wing before the hackle on my river flies. lt seems to give them more mobility, and the fish do not seem to mind at all.


4. Hackles should always be tied in by the tip of the feather, not the base of the stalk. Then squeeze the fibres backwards, and roll on the hackle. One turn is often enough with a hen cape, although two turns may be needed if you are using cock feathers.


The Hooks


In the nineteenth century there were far fewer outlets for hook manufacturers, and most fly dressers had to make do with whatever they could get. Yorkshire has created the myth that all flies in the nineteenth century were tied on short shank, wide gaped hooks. I do not believe a word of it, especially in view of the fact that there are very few references to the style of the hook in writings from the period. However, the short shank hook with a wider gape that normal does has its advantages, so perhaps the myth is really a product of modern common‑sense, or perhaps wishful thinking. Nowadays I have been converted wholeheartedly to the Ashima F45 hook. lt is designated as a "Buzzer/Grub/Shrimp" hook, which to me is a total misnaming of what is actually the perfect hook for small flies. lt has a 2x short shank, and a beautifully proportioned gape. I now tie all our wet flies on this hook, and it has the extra benefit of being 0.9% carbon content, which makes it a really tough little chap, quite capable of doing business to a larger than average Tweed brown trout.