Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Silver Down(-)East(er) ??

My good friend Bill Dreyer always seems to be swinging a different fly than is, well, more usually tied on in our salmon camp.  Last July, he hooked this beautiful salmon right in front of me:

When I shouted across the river, "What fly?", Bill responded, "Silver Down Easter."  I said to myself, "Wow, bright day, bright fly!"  And promptly forgot about it, which I am very good at doing.  Ask anybody.

Jump forward to December.  A very nice gentleman from Toronto emailed me and offered me a fly tyer's dream (well, to me, anyway):  Here's XXX number of dollars, tie me up what you think are the best flies for the restrictions, except that he did want a batch of Cutty Sarks, Celtic Beauties, Glitter Bears, some Bombers, and (lol, sadly) some White-tailed Green Machines.

I have a pretty good list of what I feel are the best Miramichi salmon flies.  I get to hang out with some of the best guides and salmon anglers/tyers on the river, and a lot of their wisdom has slowly sunk into my aging gray matter.  The fly order is a big order, and I want to touch all the bases for my customer.  Got to thinking about that nice fish Bill hooked, and felt I better include some Silver Down Easters in the order.

I also have a pretty complete library when it comes to modern atlantic salmon flies, but I always like to google around (isn't it funny how that noun has become a verb?) to see what's out there.  During the course of 2015, I tied some 60 hairwing salmon flies for Mike Valla's upcoming book, Tying and Fishing Hairwing Flies - Atlantic Salmon Flies to Steelhead Flies.  Among those flies is a Silver Down East, originated by Mainer Phil Foster.  This is the fly that will be in Mike's book:

Fellow Blogger Alan (he has a blog that is a feast for the eyes and mind: ) sent me this photo, presented with his permission, of Silver Down East's tied by its originator, Phil Foster:

But wait.  Bill said he hooked that nice fish on a Silver Down Easter.  Silver Down East?  Silver Down Easter?  Same fly?  Different flies?  Before delving into my library, Google found me this:, wherein I found that the Silver Down East's originator, Phil Foster, was quite displeased that Colonel Joe Bates, Jr, in his book, Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing, gave credit for the fly to someone in New Brunswick.  Hmmmm, better check the book.

Uh-oh.  From Bates' book (page 209):  "Since before 1960, Bert (Miner) has been tying a fly which is exactly the same as the Silver Down-Easter except that it has a wing of natural brown Squirrel Tail (instead of black).  Bert named this version the Cains River, and it is very popular in that area."  From the flyanglersonline page, here's Foster's recipe for the Silver Down East:

Thread:  Black
Tag:  Flat Gold Tinsel
Tail:  GP (crest)
Butt:  Black Ostrich
Body:  Flat Silver Tinsel
Rib:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Collar:  Orange Hackle Pulled Back
Wing:  Russian Red Squirrel Tail
Head:  Black

Bates (I'm using the 1970 first  edition, published by Stackpole as my reference copy) lists a recipe for the Silver Down-Easter (his hyphenation) and attributes it to Bert Miner (no mention of the Silver Down East or of Phil Foster in the book that I can find):

Head Color:  Black
Tag:  A very few turns of fine oval silver tinsel
Tail:  Golden pheasant crest feather
Butt:  Two or three turns of Black Ostrich, very sparse
Body:  Medium flat silver tinsel
Ribbing:  Fine oval silver tinsel
Throat:  A bright orange hackle, sparse and short, tied on as a collar before the wing is applied
Wing:  A small bunch of black Squirrel tail hairs or Black Bear hair, rather sparse and extending
            to the bend of the hook.

Here's my attempt at a Silver Down-Easter:

Okie dokie, I get that they are two different flies, but I also can understand Foster's unhappiness that Bates attributed the reddish-winged fly to Miner.  But maybe Miner really did come up, independent of Foster, with a reddish-winged version.  That happens.  But I think Foster is off-base when he goes on to say: Colonel Bates' daughter called me in early 1993 and informed me that she was in the process of updating her father's book and would I be interested in helping. I informed her of the problems encountered when her father did the original and would only be interested if the inaccuracies regarding the two flies mentioned were corrected. They weren't!

I consider Pam Bates' (listed as co-author with her at-the-time-of-publication late father Joe Bates) book, Fishing Atlantic Salmon - The Flies and the Patterns, nothing short of inspirational.  Edited by my close friend Bob Warren, the book is a feast for the eyes and mind.  And here's why I disagree with Foster about his treatment in the book:  on page 355, the pattern for the Silver Down-Easter is presented and credited to Miner.  From the book:

 "The Silver Down-Easter is an important and popular pattern on Maine and Canadian salmon rivers.  It is attributed to Bert Miner of Doaktown, New Brunswick, and is one of sevferal variations described earlier under the Blackville.  In addition to these are the Down East Special and the Silver Down East, which were originated in Maine."

Fast forward to page 374, where we find a color plate of both the Silver Down East and the Down East Special, with the notation "originated and dressed by Phil Foster."  And in the text:

"He (Foster) states that the success of the fly carried it to other rivers in the province of New Brunswick, where it was modified to have a black wing and no tail or butt.  It is very similar to the Silver Down-Easter, a Canadian pattern credited to Bert Miner."

In my humble opinion, both Miner and Foster were treated fairly and squarely in Fishing Atlantic Salmon.  I don't get why Foster thinks he was mistreated.  Once upon a time I was having a little trouble with Ernie Schwiebert regarding his introduction in an article in the journal of a fly fishing museum I ran.  He said that in the past the author of the intro had made some inaccurate comments about him. I simply could not see what he was going on about...what did that have to do with the current price of eggs?  I asked the author of that introduction (a well-published author and a good friend) what was up.  He ransacked his office trying to find where he had ever made an inaccurate statement about Ernie.  Couldn't find anything.  Ended up simply saying he thought Ernie must be a "self reader", i.e., he read what he wanted to read, not what was on the page.

Maybe that's the case with Phil.  In any event, they're both good flies.  Especially if you're a fan of the "bright day, bright fly" school of thought.



  1. Gary years ago when bright salmon season didn't open until early June I was rigging up in late May with a double #2 low water Silver Down Easter when a warden informed me that salmon season was not open yet. I informed him that I knew that and was in pursuit of some sea trout running on the Naashwaak river at the time. He came in to watch me and in a couple of hours I landed 2 salmon 15-20 lbs. and 6 trout weighing in total just over 18 lbs. The warden informed me that had he not witnessed it he wouldn't believe that it was that good a trout fly.
    Brian C

  2. Gary, wonderful post.
    Phil Foster and I had some interesting conversations over some years. And the story of his silver downeaster always came up. He used to say the good col. made a mistake and would never admit it. I think I have a Silver Down Easter that he tied.

  3. Gary,
    I found the Foster tied Silver Down-Easter.
    I'll send you apic.


    1. Alan, that is so cool. Look forward to the pic! There is so much history that we're missing...thanks for adding to what we know! I'll add the pic to this post. Many thanks!