Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shades of Claret

As an American fly tyer, I've begun to feel a bit cavalier in my attitude towards the various shades of claret especially compared to tyers in the U.K. and even more especially compared to Irish fly tyers.  Through my visits to (a largely U.K. populated forum), I'm gaining new appreciation claret's many nuances.

A recent post about claret on that forum motivated me to post a photo of 3 different capes I had dyed claret.  A salmonfishingforum friend, Kenny (kgm on that board, and a scotsman living in Ireland), took me gently to task, mentioning that true clarets couldn't be gotten from dyeing over pure white.
Here are the capes in question:

Well, Kenny took the bull by the horns and sent me 6 or 7 claret-dyed seal samples from Frankie McPhillips of Northern Ireland and Steve Cooper ( .  Yikes, my claret is so vanilla compared to those samples.  I mean, the Irish take their claret (the fly tying kind, dunno how they feel about the wine with all that Guiness flowing about) very seriously. 

Being a fan of visual comparisons, and dying to use Bridget's new label-maker thingy, I decided to lay out some differences for us all.  To wit:


Photo taken in direct sunlight (rare occurence around here) with my old Kodak point and shoot.  The good news is, and definately as luck would have it, I'm pretty close to 3 of the clarets.  And they're probably the ones that count for me.  That black claret is some myserious concoction, I'd say.

Kenny sent me one new pack of Frankie McPhillips dubbing in Fiery Brown.  It's so cool for me to have it's just getting tacked up on the wall, unopened.

Of interest to me is how lacking the color claret is in (particularly) atlantic salmon flies tied for the Miramichi system.  In days gone by, flies like the Logie, with its body of dark claret floss, was in use on that river.  There's a photo in John E. Hutton's book Trout and Salmon Fishing (Little, Brown and Co., 1949) of hisownself sitting in a canoe on the Miramichi, playing a fish.  The caption reads: "...Fish hooked on No. 12 Logie."   But even the poor Logie has become "de-claretized".

In Kelson (1895), the Logie's body is listed as that dark claret floss.  Along comes Pryce-Tannatt (1914) and voila! the body becomes ruby red.  If you peruse that excellent purveyor of salmon fishing equipment W.W. Doak's catalog, there is not a single fly that appears to use claret anywhere on the fly.  (Thus endeth today's academic adventures)

All is not lost.  Great fly innovators like Bob Warren have used the claret-ish colors of the Golden Pheasant to very great effect.  His Golden Pheasant Spey is one of the most effective autumn patterns I've seen:

I dyed a GP skin claret, and kind of like the Golden Pheasant Spey even a little farther into the claret spectrum:

Of course, then I went totally overboard, claret-wise, when my wildflower garden was in bloom:

The Celtic Beauty was born with a claret throat, and continues to be dressed with claret in its iterations other than pure hairwing:

and the latest, inspired by landlocked salmon fishing buddy, John Miniaci:

Dyeing and playing with colors has become much of the fun of fly fishing for me.  I'm very happy to have acquaintances like Kenny helping me enjoy it even more.  Thanks for the color, Kenny!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


The venerable Rusty Rat, that famous-among-hairwing flies, came about as a collaborative effort between Joseph Pulitzer II and Restigouche County, NB fly tyer Clovis Arseneault.  The story goes that Pulitzer had been fishing the Restigouche with one of Clovis' Black Rats , the black body of which had an underlying layer of rusty-colored dental floss.  A couple of good fish withered the black body, exposing the rust-colored floss.  Pulitzer proceeded to land a 41-pounder on the "rusty" fly. 

He took the fly to Clovis, and had him create a reproduction of it.  This was in 1949.  The rest of the story, is, as they say, history.   For the best account of the fly's history, check out The Origin of the Rusty Rat in Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards Fishing Atlantic Salmon Flies: The Flies and the Patterns, page 329.  Bob Warren edited the book, which, besides being a great resource, I find to be downright inspiring.  Out-of-Print and mucho dineros if you find a copy.

One of a group of Rusty Rats I've been tying (size 6 Gamakatsu T10-6H):

The Pattern as I've tied it:

Tag and Rib - Lagartun oval gold tinsel, size small
Tail - Peacock sword (four or five fibers)
Body - Rear half Rusty Orange Uni-Floss, front half Peacock Herl.  Note that a piece of floss veils      the rear half of the body, extending to about half-way over the tail.
Wing - Gray fox guard hairs
Hackle - webby grizzly hen saddle (in this case from Theriault Farm in Maine
Head - Red 

Here's a Rusty Rat tied by the man himself, Clovis Arseneault (courtesy Vin Swazey):

Notice the black head.  All of the Rusty Rats I've seen actually tied by Clovis have black heads.  All of the samples of his work in the Bates' book also have black heads.  Don't know when the switch to red occurred, but I do like it better...and my hook, my rules!

A batch o' Rats (sizes 4-12) hot off the vise:

My good friend Vin Swazey used to buy flies directly from Clovis when he (Vin) ran a couple of corporate camps on the Miramichi.  He still has a collection of about 120 of Clovis' ties...just an awesome sight!  As Clovis' eyes were failing him (born 1902, died 1980, so woulda been 76), he sent Vin this letter (don't forget, you can double click on the pic to see a larger version):


Here are a few more Arseneault-tied flies (from Vin's collection):

Left column top to bottom: Silver Doctor, Canadian Black Dose, Durham Ranger
Right column top to bottom: Silver Grey, Silver Grey, Jock Scott

I must report that a dear friend, salmon-fishing buddy and world-class fly tyer who shall remain anonymous remarked that, "It looks like Clovis put his head cement on with a popsicle stick."  Made me laugh. 

Thus endeth today's post.


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Picasse

I'm well into an order from a gentleman for almost 200 flies for his trip to the Gaspe' rivers this summer.  Several, more generally known in that region than the Miramichi where I fish, I've not tied before.  The Picasse is one of those flies.  Originated by guide Marc LeBlanc (one of his many effective creations), the fly started life looking more like a streamer than the spey-type fly it is now.  My french (and Italian and English!) speaking fishing buddy John Miniaci from Montreal added this about the fly:

"Story goes that it was named by a fellow guide that found the fly sank like an "anchor" (Picasse translates to "anchor"). Marc wanted something that would be a durable, fast fly to tie that his sports would find hard to destroy from bad casts or fish. Originally, it was tied with clear mono & bucktail with lady amherst cheeks."
Marc very generously took the time to send me a photo of the fly as he now ties it.  This is my rendition:

That fly is tied on a number 7 Daiichi 2059, with the blue finish.  The body is black vinyl D-ribbing, the wing is yellow hair under sparse black flash under black hair.  The hackle is blue eared pheasant with a silver pheasant collar.  Jungle cock eyes and a black head finish the fly off.

A herd ready to head to the Gaspe, tied on number 3, 5 and 7 Daiichi 2059's and Partridge Salar number 9's:

I tied a few for myself, too.  It looks too good not to work in the Miramichi system!