I'm headed to the Catskills this weekend and thought I would leave leave with a post about a fly that I enjoy tying a lot. It holds a lot of history and has many versions, much like the Catskills. I've got fishing on the brain, so I'll let the story tell itself. I'm sure I'll have some stories to share next week!
Hook: Daiichi 1270 size 12
Thread: Pearasll's primrose
Tail: Artic Fox
Body: Tup's fur
Thorax: Pinkish dubbing
Wing: Light Creamy Dun from a hen cape
This is one of my favorite soft hackles. If not for the shear sexiness of the design or the great story/history behind it, this fly appeals to me and encompasses a lot of what fly tying is to me. I tyed this fly at my OOFS Jan 2011 demo. Using it as my lead in fly since Mark Libertone had tyed the fly the previous week. Mark is an extrordinary soft hackle artist and I thought the fly would carry well between our demos and hopefully play into Ray Tucker's demo to follow the next week. Not my best demo for it seemed like I couldn't find a rythm until late and it just wasn't flowing as smooth as I had hoped. I stepped away from tradition with the hook and tail, kept tradition with the Pearsalls and the fur from the scrotum of a Tup (male goat). The finished fly sat in a dish with other assorted flies next to my tying desk for 3 months. In the middle of being swamped with fly orders I pulled the Tup's out and realized why it is I do what I do and why I hold this as a passion and a way of life. I set it under the light and things just looked right.....time to reflect.
During the late summer and early autumn, large numbers of small upwing flies are frequently encountered on many of our rivers. They are often grouped together under the name of "pale wateries", characterised by their small size and pale body colouration. September trout and October grayling feed extensively upon theses little flies and the angler is well advised to carry an imitation. There are many candidates for the position but there is one that stands head and shoulders above all others. Not because it is more effective, but it is just more fun. Enter the Tup’s Indispensable.
Before synthetic dyes were widely available, fly dressers relied upon finding natural fibres to replicate the colours of the insects that they imitated.
In 1900, a fly dresser called Mr. R. S. Austin sold flies as a side-line to his tobacconist business in Tiverton, Devon. He devised a dry fly that proved very effective at imitating the pale watery. The body of his pattern was made from a fine fur and was a remarkably accurate imitation of the body colour of the natural flies. No-one could work out what fur Austin had used. Furthermore, allegedly in the interests of retaining the monopoly for selling this fly, he kept its source a secret. It seems that he confided in only two people; one was his daughter and the other was a famous fly fisher by the name of G.E.M. Skues, both were sworn to secrecy. Skues published an article which sang the praises of Austin’s fly, naming it "Tup’s Indispensable". He did not, however, reveal the secret of its construction. As a consequence of this publicity from a well-known angler, it became such a popular fly that Austin is said to have become "utterly sick" of tying it. In 1914 Mr. Austin passed away but his daughter continued the business. When she retired in 1934, she decided that the secret ingredient of her father’s famous fly should be made public.
Remember, Skues had named this fly the tup’s indispensable. Now, all you good Yorkshire folk out there will be well aware that a tup is the proper name for a male sheep. Those amongst you with a bit of Yorkshire "nous" will also work out what is the "indispensable" bit or even bits of a tup! It transpired that dear Mr. Austin had discovered that the fur that he required could be found on the scrotum of a tup.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this all starts raising a few questions in my mind. I’m not so sure that the secrecy surrounding Tup’s Indispensable was entirely about retaining a business monopoly. For a start, if I had an intimate knowledge of the colour of the wool on a tup’s nether regions, I would definitely keep very quiet about it. Incidentally, I am interested in finding any information about how our friend actually collected the wool from such an inaccessible place. I have visions of nocturnal exploits, on hands and knees, with a candle, shaving brush and a cut throat razor. I suspect, however, that this would be fraught with danger, because tups are not the most co-operative of creatures at the best of times. I can imagine them becoming a bit tetchy if one tried to shave their indispensables. The other alternative is plucking and I simply do not want to go there.
In fact, it seems that Austin may have stolen the thunder of a man called Alexander Mackintosh; in 1806 he published a recipe for an artificial mayfly.
It included the advice "…take a little fine wool from the ram’s testicles, which is a beautiful dusty yellow." I guess that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
By the way, Mr. Mackintosh was the landlord of the Red Lion Inn at Driffield, East Yorkshire. He died in 1829, perhaps trampled by an irate tup.
Before you ask, "yes" the body of Steve’s fly is made of the real stuff, painstakingly harvested with the aid of a hard hat, a head torch and a pair of eyebrow tweezers.