Afraid this is a rambling and at times barely coherent tale which spans decades and continents but at the end I will give you a really good salmon fly pattern.
Trout and Salmon magazine was an integral part of my angling education. When I was still living at home with my parents my bedroom had the back issues of the mags stacked in a corner. Every month I would search out a copy of latest issue and devour it from cover to cover, imbibing stories of silver salmon caught on famous beats or wily trout tempted by tweed-clad gentlemen from chalk streams on split winged dry flies. How to use a gaff, the benefits of the new-fangled plastic fly lines, how to smoke a side of salmon – it was all in there and more. Then there were all the small ads at the back – I loved them and always perused the little boxes with ads for Dibro devons and other angling related tat which the salesmen tried to hook you on.
One of these ads in particular intrigued me. It was placed every month by a company in India who sold capes wholesale. I was tying a huge number of flies at the time, selling them to finance my fishing so I hit on the idea of buying a load of these cheap capes, keeping the good ones for myself and flogging off the others at a profit. The budding entrepreneur inside me worked out costs for the purchase of the capes, my postage and packing and a sales price for the product. I made up little sticky labels and bought some small polythene bags. Upon getting in touch with the company (it was a box number as I recall) they kindly wrote and explained I would need an import licence. If I wanted to proceed they would send me a copy of their certificates which had to accompany my application for the licence. I wrote back and asked them for the paperwork. Undeterred by all these complications I next wrote off to the ministry who promptly replied and sent me a form to be completed. The pages were filled in eventually with some help from my father. My mother wanted nothing to do with this madcap scheme, loudly proclaiming she was not having ‘those smelly feather things in her house’. The Royal Mail did a fine job of delivering my completed form back to London, and remarkably quickly the all important import licence was back in my sweaty paws in Aberdeen. A hand-written order was produced and posted off to the sub-continent along with a bank draft. I was, literally, in business.
Several weeks passed then one day a knock on the front door heralded the arrival of a large and battered cardboard box. My excitement was only matched by my mam’s disapproving glare as I tore into the flimsy container. I have to admit my mother’s insistence the ‘feathery things’ would smell was 100% accurate, but the stink was of mothballs. I forget how many capes I bought but it was a lot! They were a mixture of all colours, both cock and hen with the majority being males. There were badgers, in white and cream, lovely pure white hen capes, a couple of grizzles and loads of mixed shades. Sorting, packing and labelling took me a couple of days in between work and soon I was selling capes off to all the guys I knew in the area. The details of these transactions remain to this day outside the knowledge of the taxman but I made enough to cover the cost of the whole escapade and had a few pounds left over. More importantly, I had sufficient capes left over to last me a lifetime.
At the same time as the capes arrived I bought some dyes from Veniard, and much to the further annoyance of my long suffering mother I proceeded to learn how to colour the feathers I had just acquired. I seem to recall it was around this time I moved out of the family home (I wonder why) as girls/work/ life in general got in the way of my plans to become an importer of feathers and build a business. When my licence came up for renewal I did not bother, something I actually regret a little bit now. Anyway, I had boxes full of capes of all sorts of colours, both natural and dyed which has kept me going in hackles to this day.
A proportion of the capes from India were red game cocks. One of these in particular was a lovely, deep red colour which I used it to make flies such as the Soldier Palmer. I plucked so many feathers from it there were just a handful of useable hackles left so a couple of years ago I pulled them off the skin and put them into a polythene bag to save space. Here in Ireland I found these hackles were perfect for making Green Peter’s and in particular my green winged version. The other day I found I was a bit short of some of these lethal flies but when I went to tie some more I found the bag of red game hackles was nearly empty. Sadly I am near the end of a lifetime’s use of this Indian chickens plumage. I know they are just poor quality red game hackles and I can pick up the same shade easily enough these days. It is just a bit sad when something you are so familiar with comes to an end, isn’t it?
You have listened to my ramblings for long enough, here is the pattern I promised you.
Hook: Sizes 6 to 12, normal shank
Rib: fine oval gold tinsel
Body: green-olive seals fur. The shade is best achieved by a mix of 50% green and 50% medium olive fur
Body hackle: Red game cock, palmered
Wing: a bunch of squirrel tail hair, dyed green
Head hackle: a long fibred red game cock hackle, at least 4 turns
This fly has caught salmon on Carrowmore, Conn and Beltra, sea trout everywhere and brownies on Conn, Mask and Carra. Give it a try, I think you will like the results.