Monday, February 23, 2015

Native New England Salmon Flies - Part II: Southern New England

Upper Wood River (Arcadia, RI)

When I was thirteen years old, I hooked my first trout on a fly. I was fishing western Rhode Island's Wood River. Though the Wood is still home to native brook trout, it hasn't held a wild Atlantic salmon in well over a century. I probably don't have any ancestors who lived in the United States when the Wood's last wild salmon ran the river. I would have loved to fish for salmon in the Wood, though it doesn't strike me as much of a salmon river. I now call Connecticut home. In contrast to the Wood, there are some rivers and streams here that scream "Salmon!" to me. Most are tributaries of the Connecticut River, reputed to have once been the most prolific Atlantic salmon river in all of North America.

Though southern New Englanders never had a recreational Atlantic salmon fishery to call our own, it didn't stop many of us from pursuing the "King of Sport Fish" elsewhere. When it was possible, some of us pursued salmon in Maine, though most anglers were bound for Canada. Despite a deficit of salmon locally, some heavyweight flies have sprung from the minds of tyers in southern New England.


Atlantic Salmon Flies From Southern New England 

Massachusetts: "Golden Pheasant Spey" (Bob Warren)

The "Golden Pheasant Spey" comes from the fertile mind and eminently talented hands of Bob Warren of Princeton, Massachusetts. Bob's flies can be seen in books such as Tying the Classic Salmon Fly, by Michael Radencich, Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen's Flies for Atlantic Salmon, and my personal favorite, Fishing Atlantic Salmon: The Flies and the Patterns, by Joseph Bates and Pamela Bates Richards. Created for New Brunswick's Miramichi River, the Golden Pheasant Spey is a fly designed for autumn fishing. Gary Tanner, author of the River's Course blog, is the most vocal advocate I know when it comes to the Golden Pheasant spey. Gary and the boys seem to knock them dead with it.

The Golden Pheasant Spey has a regal silhouette and natural glow. It's a fairly bright fly but not in a flashy or gaudy way. The golden pheasant might be the most versatile bird in all of salmon fly tying and its feathers are put to good use in this fly. The dressing listed below was taken from Spey Flies and How to Tie Them by Bob Veverka. 

Golden Pheasant Spey

Hook: Daiichi 2139 (sz. 2)
Tag: Oval copper tinsel*
Tail: Golden pheasant crest over orange polar bear or bucktail, tail as long as body of fly
Body: Half hot orange silk, ribbed with oval copper tinsel* and veiled with yellow rump feathers from a golden pheasant, black ostrich herl butt at middle, and half oval copper tinsel*
Hackle: Claret hackle followed by two red golden pheasant feathers

*copper tinsel subbed with gold tinsel in the fly pictured above

Connecticut: "Mitchell" (Archibald Mitchell)
Plate B from M.O. Marbury's "Favorite Flies and Their Histories" (1892)
The Mitchell is fly #21 (middle right)

In the world of Atlantic salmon flies, some real gems have come from the state of Connecticut. The first one that comes to mind is Don Leyden's "Shady Lady," a fly that evolved into one of the deadliest salmon-catchers in Canada's Maritime Provinces. A far more obscure fly is the "Mitchell," created by Archibald Mitchell. Though born in Scotland, Mitchell spent most of his adult life in Norwich, Connecticut. Like the Shady Lady, the Mitchell has also undergone some pretty dramatic changes over the years.

As mentioned in Part I of this series, only two Atlantic salmon flies in Mary Orvis Marbury's book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, were created in America. The Notion was one of them, though it was originally intended for landlocked salmon. The other was the Mitchell, which was a dedicated Atlantic salmon fly from the beginning. Mr. Mitchell submitted the fly to Ms. Marbury and had this to say about it:

I take pleasure in sending you the Mitchell salmon fly, as requested. Its story is short and easily told. I conceived the idea that a very dark fly would be a success on the Penobscot River, for salmon, and tied a few of them for the first time during the winter of 1887-88. It is my own invention, and was not copied from any other fly. It was first tried on the Penobscot during the following spring. (Marbury, 53)

The Mitchell might not have been "copied from any other fly," but it there was nothing unusual about its construction. The Mitchell wasn't gaudy by Victorian era standards but, in terms of architecture, it used a the same basic template as most winged salmon flies of the period.

"Mitchell" as dressed by Farrow Allen (1991)

Somewhere down the line, the Mitchell was reinterpreted. That is not unusual. Fly patterns tend to change over time. Complex Atlantic salmon flies have a history of being simplified to make tying quicker, easier, more cost effective, and/or more durable. The bizarre thing about the Mitchell is that it went the other direction. It actually "evolved" into a more unusual and complex pattern the original. The newer Mitchell lost the double rib (in favor of just one type of ribbing tinsel), but added a new floss section, kingfisher cheeks, and two-tone head. I do not know when these changes occurred, nor do I know who changed the dressing. I have at least three books with dressings for the Mitchell. There are slight differences between all three, but they all resemble the fly in the picture above. The dressing I tied comes from Flies for Atlantic Salmon by Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen.


Hook: Daiichi 2139 (sz. 2)
Tag: Oval silver tinsel and yellow floss
Tail: Golden pheasant crest and kingfisher blue hackle fibers**
Butt: Black ostrich herl
Body: Yellow floss followed by a red butt (wool)
Rib: Fine oval silver tinsel over the black floss only
Throat: Sparse bunch of yellow hackle, ahead of which are three turns of black hackle 
Wing: Black crow quill feathers or a dyed substitute 
Topping: Golden pheasant crest
Cheeks: Jungle cock, veiled by kingfisher
Head: Black, with red band at rear

**Actual kingfisher is substituted for the kingfisher blue hackle fibers in the fly pictured above

Rhode Island: "Cosseboom Special" (John Cosseboom)

Though it is the last fly in this series, the "Cosseboom Special," or "Cosseboom" as it is more often called, is the most influential fly of the six featured here. Paul Marriner refers to the Cosseboom as the "third of the super-flies'" (Marriner, 40). The term "super-flies" refers to patterns that serve as templates for numerous salmon fly variations (the other two "super-flies" being the Rat and the Black Bear/Butt series of salmon flies). There are sixteen different Cosseboom variations in Chris Mann's book The Complete Illustrated Directory of Salmon & Steelhead Flies. Aside from the sixteen Cossebooms listed in Mann's book, there are a plethora of other salmon and steelhead flies tied in the style of the Cosseboom. 

The creator of the Cosseboom Special was John C. Cosseboom, a poet, newspaper writer, and insurance agent from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Mr. Cosseboom was champion fly caster and an all-around talented fellow. His signature fly, which has more than stood the test of time, was created on a whim.

In July 1935, John Cosseboom and Ai Ballou, originator of the Ballou Special, were aboard the S.S. Fleuris making the twenty-four-hour passage from Quebec to Anticosti Island. To pass the time, fly-tying gear was brought out, and Ai's wife, Annie, challenged Cosseboom to create a fly using a spool of olive green silk floss she had selected. He met the challenge, incorporating the floss for both the body and the tail, and hooked it to Mrs. Ballou's lapel. Later, Ai Ballou attached a note to the fly, "This is the original Cosseboom dressed by John Cosseboom on the S.S. Fleuris, July, 1935, and given to Annie Ballou." The fly is still in existence and exhibits a throat hackle rather than the collar that is usual on the pattern today (Bates, 93-94). 

Aside from the switch from a throat hackle to a collar hackle, the Cosseboom underwent a couple of other changes since the original was tied in 1935. The original Cosseboom used embossed silver tinsel for both the tag and the rib. Nowadays, oval silver tinsel is most often used for both. Also, there is a great degree of variation used in the olive green floss used for the body and tail. The original Cosseboom was a fairly dark shade of olive. The fly is often seen tied in a lighter shade of olive or olive-yellow now. A dark olive Cosseboom variation, known as the "Miramichi Cosseboom," exists and is a very effective fly, though the head is black rather than the signature red of the standard Cosseboom.

The fly pictured above is a composite dressing, not culled from any particular source.


Hook: Daiichi 2441 (sz. 4)
Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Tail: Light olive floss
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Light olive floss
Wing: Grey squirrel tail
Collar Hackle: Bright yellow
Head: Red

This concludes this two-part series on native New England salmon flies. I have more New England salmon fly patterns coming in a future post. I hope you enjoyed this series!

New England Salmon Flies from all six states


Bates, Joseph D. and Bates Richards, Pamela. Fishing Atlantic Salmon: The Flies and the Patterns. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1996. Print.

Mann, Chris. The Complete Illustrated Directory of Salmon & Steelhead Flies. Portland: Frank Amato Publications, Inc., 2008. Print.

Marriner, Paul. Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies. Mahone Bay: Gales End Press, 2011. Print. 

Orvis Marbury, Mary. Favorite Flies and Their Histories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1892. Print.

Stewart, Dick and Allen, Farrow. Flies for Atlantic Salmon. Intervale: Northland Press, Inc., 1991. Print. 

Veverka, Bob. Spey Flies and How to Tie Them. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2004. Print.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Native New England Salmon Flies - Part I: Northern New England

Historic Atlantic Salmon Rivers of New England
(courtesy of NOAA)

At one time, all six New England states had runs of Atlantic salmon. The northernmost U.S. salmon river is Maine's Little Madawaska River, a small tributary of the Aroostook River. The Aroostook is a tributary of the once ultra-prolific St. John River. The southernmost river with a (long extinct) salmon run is Connecticut's Housatonic River. As far as I know, a recreational Atlantic salmon fishery never existed in any New England state other than Maine. Most stocks of New England salmon were either heavily depleted or extirpated before sport fishing became a popular pastime in North America. As such, sport fishers had to travel to Maine or Canada to pursue Atlantic salmon. However, the lack of New England salmon did not stop fly tyers from experimenting with flies or developing new patterns. In this series, I will feature one Atlantic salmon fly created in each of the six New England states.

Despite a lack, or absence, of Atlantic salmon in rivers with historic runs, there are viable landlocked salmon fisheries in all but two New England states (Connecticut and Rhode Island do not have runs of landlocked salmon). While investigating native New England salmon flies and fly tyers, I noticed a common theme. Many flies were designed for trout or landlocked salmon, but have been repurposed for Atlantic salmon fishing. Ultimately, several flies became more popular with Atlantic salmon anglers than with trout or landlocked salmon anglers. Of the six flies featured in this series, two fit this description, both northern New England patterns.


Atlantic Salmon Flies From Northern New England 

Maine: "The Chief" (Chief Needabeh)

The fly we now know as "The Chief" is a reduction of a Rangley-style streamer created by Chief Roland Nelson, also known as Chief Needabeh. Chief Needabeh, a member of the Native American Penobscot Tribe, was the proprietor of Needabeh's Shack, at tackle shop at Moosehead Lake in Greenville, Maine (Bates, 372). The original fly was called the "Chief Needabeh Streamer." This streamer fly was originally intended for brook trout, landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass. Atlantic salmon anglers discovered its value when fishing for autumn salmon. It is particularly deadly on territorial male salmon, who likely consider the fly a potential intruder. Though its still effective when used for its original quarry, the fly is more commonly seen on Atlantic salmon rivers nowadays. In recent years, the fly's dressing has been simplified and its name shortened. Like many Atlantic salmon flies, the dressing constantly changes and evolves. Below is a composite dressing for "The Chief."

The Chief

Hook: Daiichi 2271 (sz. 2)
Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Chinese Red Uni-Stretch
Wing: A pair of yellow saddle hackles inside a pair of red saddle hackles
Sides: Jungle cock (optional)
Collar Hackles: Red over yellow
Head: Black

New Hampshire: "Dragon" (Fran Stuart)

Like many other salmon flies conceived in New England, the "Dragon" was tied for the Atlantic salmon of Maine's Penobscot River. In terms of a sport fishery, the Penobscot has always been America's top Atlantic salmon river. Fran Stuart, creator of the Dragon, is from Peterborough, New Hampshire. The fly was first tied in summer of 1988 during a long, hot, dry spell on the Penobscot. Stuart first tied the fly "In a tent, by the light of a Coleman lantern." (Stewart and Allen, 42). It is a very simple, minimal fly that is most effective in low water. The Dragon is more of template than a rigid fly pattern. Though black, green and silver is the most common combination, floss and wire colors can be easily changed to suit the whim of the tyer. Unfortunately, the Penobscot is now closed to Atlantic salmon fishing. Hopefully, the Dragon will once again have the opportunity to swim in its native river. 


Hook: Sprite Low Water Double (sz. 10)
Tag: Fine silver wire
Underbody: Flat silver tinsel
Overbody: Fluorescent green floss
Rib: Black ostrich herl, counter wrapped with fine silver wire
Hackle: Webby black hen saddle

Vermont, via Massachusetts: "The Notion" (Shields & Marbury)

A very unique fly concludes Part I of this series. The "Notion" was created by John Shields of Brookline, Massachusetts. However, if not for Manchester, Vermont's Mary Orvis Marbury, the Notion would have been lost in time. Marbury's greatest contribution to fly fishing was her book Favorite Flies and Their Histories (1892). The book was written based on submissions by North American anglers of the era. Each angler submitted a list and description of his favorite flies for the fish species found in his respective region. Marbury showed no preference for flies tied for a certain species, as flies for salmonids and non-salmonids get equal representation. 

There are no formal fly recipes in Marbury's book, however there are 32 color plates which show 291 different fly patterns. There are three plates of salmon fly illustrations. All but two salmon flies shown in the plates were created in Europe. Most were the standard salmon flies of the era (i.e. Jock Scott, Silver Doctor, etc.). The Notion was one of the two American flies included in plates of salmon flies. Like the Chief, the Notion was a repurposed fly which happened to be quite versatile.

The Notion was first made and named by John Shields, the veteran fly-maker of Brookline, Mass. It was intended for land-locked salmon, but we hear of it as also successful for salmon, trout, and black bass. Dressed on a large hook it is very beautiful, the gilt and golden brown harmonizing perfectly; it can also be adapted to a small hook. It is a fly that many anglers "take a notion to," and value for the good it does as well as for its beauty. (Marbury, 63)

Technically, the Notion is a Massachusetts creation, however, I've never seen the Notion mentioned anywhere Marbury wasn't also mentioned. Since the fly has been so closely associated with Mary Orvis Marbury all these years, I've decided to use it for the Vermont fly in this piece. Marbury is the certainly the most iconic fly tyer to come from Vermont as well as one of the most iconic of all American fly tyers. The dressing below is approximate, as no complete salmon fly dressings are listed in Marbury's book.

The Notion

Hook: Mustad 3370 (sz. 2/0)
Tag: Oval gold tinsel
Tail: Golden pheasant crest (long) and blue/yellow macaw
Body: Rear half-embossed gold tinsel; Front half-fiery brown seal fur
Hackle and Throat: fiery brown
Wing: Pair of golden pheasant tippets, back to back; veiled with strips of yellow and blue swan, dark turkey, and teal
Cheeks: Kingfisher
Head: Black ostrich herl


Bates, Joseph D. and Bates Richards, Pamela. Fishing Atlantic Salmon: The Flies and the Patterns. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1996. Print.

Orvis Marbury, Mary. Favorite Flies and Their Histories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1892. Print.

Stewart, Dick and Allen, Farrow. Flies for Atlantic Salmon. Intervale: Northland Press, Inc. 1991. Print. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Quick Tip: Hackle Plier Tip Re-Grip

Hackle pliers w/o a rubber sleeve...they slip like crazy

Finally, I'm back to tying flies and messing up my "fishing office." I've been trying to post once a week, which is probably an unsustainable pace for me, but I want to keep the streak going for as long as possible. I have a post on some unique flies coming up, but I won't have it ready for this week. In the meantime, here's a quick fly tying tool tip. 

Pick your favorite color of silicone junction tubing

The little yellow piece of rubber grippy material fell off of my Tiemco hackle pliers long ago. I used them as-is for a while before an absurdly easy solution occurred to me. I cut a small piece of silicone junction tubing and put it where the little yellow rubber piece went. It fit perfectly and can be easily replaced when necessary. Voila! That's it...really simple, but it took a little while for the lightbulb to go on. If you don't tie tube flies, befriend someone who does. A piece of silicone tubing costs pennies and, for this purpose, will last a really long time. 

All better! 

Stay tuned for some native New England salmon flies coming soon...

Monday, February 2, 2015

The "Fishing Office"

Squeaky clean, but not for long

When my wife and I moved into our current home two and a half years ago, I was excited to have a room specifically for fly tying. I quickly claimed the bedroom with the best natural light. A few months after moving in, my brilliantly eccentric pianist friend, Craig, swung by to pick me up on the way to a gig in Springfield, MA. Craig requested a house tour, which happened to end in the fly tying room. Just before leaving, Craig was going on and on about how much he liked our new house. I remember him saying something like, "I love your new house. You've got a beautiful fishing office with a bay window and everything!" My wife and I cracked up when he referred to the room as my "fishing office" and the name has stuck ever since.

Tying desk (left) and photo desk (right)
Notice the toddler locks

The last time the fishing office was throughly clean and organized was just after moving in. I decided to bite the bullet and devote my January tying time to getting the fishing office back up to snuff. Sure, I tied a few flies here and there, but I really hunkered down the past couple of weeks and finally finished the job. I wanted to get a few pictures of the room in its current (and temporary) pristine state. 

Craig's "bay window," which is actually an arch window
More toddler locks on the closet doors

The big window lets in a lot of light. It actually lets in too much unfiltered light in the winter. It's a lot more pleasant when there are leaves on the trees. The light is awesome for the plumeria cuttings, but I worried about UV light damaging tying materials. Also, I had a couple of framed flies and a large shadow box (with pictures and contents of my great grandfather's barbershop) on the wall. I decided to replace the framed flies and shadow box with pictures of flies and fishing scenes. If the pictures fade, they can be easily replaced. The frames will go into the music teaching/rehearsal studio in the basement where they will be safe. I used to leave a lot of materials (dubbing boxes, thread, etc.) out on the desk, but have since moved them into drawers. I think the room's contents are pretty safe from direct sunlight now. 

Fishing books, The Onion anthologies, Mutiny on the Bounty,
Colonel Sanders' autobiography, etc. 

Another task I finally got around to was taking a razor to retired and/or junk flies. Having been tied in our previous home, sone of them actually predated the fishing office. In the future, I need to cut them up as soon as they get into the room instead of letting them pile up in a plastic cup for years. Another new year, another resolution...we'll see how that goes.

The reason for the toddler locks

The fishing office hasn't look this nice and orderly since we moved in. I almost don't want to tie flies in there for fear of messing it up again. I've been going in there just to hang out and relax lately.  A new order for salmon flies just came in, so looks like it's not going to stay pretty for long. I'm glad I got some pics before I trash the place!

Room for more materials!