The Magic Bullet
16 March 2005
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They had plenty of magic in them, however, and they caught thousands of trout, but by the time I was in my teens they had been usurped by buggier types such as the Brown and Grey Hackles, peacock bodies with or without a red tag, and maybe best of all, the old Blue Upright. One fly in particular still mystifies me; a fly tied roughly on the old Half Stone formula but with a pinky orange hackle, inexplicably called a Stone Fly. It was absolutely deadly on the Crowsnest for some reason, back in the fifties, and has been lost in the mists of time now. No one in those parts even remembers it, but that’s probably because back then there were only about a dozen anglers fishing that stream, and they’re mostly dead now. At any rate, you didn’t want to fish the Crow in July without a couple of those pink hackled Stone Fly in your hat.
By the time I was sixteen I was way too sophisticated to fish anything like that, not even a Royal Coachman, which in several guises is still convincing educated trout all over the planet. The true path, for me, lay in imitation, not necromancy. When I relocated to Scotland in the mid-eighties I was surprised and fascinated by the flies still in regular use throughout the highlands, with heroic names like Blue Zulu, Peter Ross and Invicta. My own fanciful ‘highland’ patterns, the Veyatie Black and Smithy evolved from these as a cautious attempt to observe local protocols, and which, to my delight, have been received warmly by some indigenous Scottish trout hunters such as Allan Liddle. However, a couple of strange ones entered my repertoire without any tinkering by me, Donegal Blue being the best example. Which brings us to the question: if they imitate nothing in particular, why are some so-called ‘fancy’ flies better than others?