Devon and West Country Flies.
“It is puzzling to some students of the subject, ....... ,why on the fast rough waters of the North Country
a fly very sparsely tied with the softest, most mobile hackle it is possible should be the best and most deadly type of fly that can be used, whilst on similar fast, rough waters of Devonshire and the West Country, a fly tied with the brightest and stiffest of cock’s hackle should be the best killer. From information I have been able to gather from fishermen of both districts and from the angling Press, I fancy that different methods of fishing the fly and practise for generations of using the local type of fly in a certain way, may in a measure account for the distinction. The north country anglers fish their sparsely tied spider flies up-stream, or up and across, allowing them to drift down in a manner similar to that in which a drowned natural fly would drift down and the soft, mobile hackles fibres ’play’ to every movement of the stream. Many Devonshire and west country anglers fish down-stream, and the stiff cock’s hackle of their fly is necessary to stand out against the action of the stream upon the fly. Soft hackles fished down-stream and held against the stream would cling around the hook and give the fly the appearance of a shapeless mass of feather fibres, completely covering up the body of the fly. The experiences of a good north country fisherman on Devon streams and of a good Devon fisherman on north country streams, each sticking to his own particular style of fishing and types of flies, would be very interesting.” - From ‘Modern Trout Fly Dressing’ by Roger Woolley.
W. H. Lawrie also had quite a bit to say on West Country flies, from his ’English and Welsh Trout Flies’.
“The wet fly of the West is a full-dressed artificial - the very antithesis of the sparsely dressed fly employed for fishing very similar streams in the North Country. The body is full length, and the hackling is generous and sometimes even bushy; but the materials used, both dubbing and hackle, are of the best in order to obtain a bright, sparkling pattern likely to be of maximum attraction to trout. So that the fly will respond in a lively fashion to tumbling currents of water, the hackle preferred is a sharp first-quality cock hackle, preferably from the Old English Game cock or the bantam cock of the same breed. Wings, in general are not favoured, the hackled dressing being preferred. The result is a fly which may or may not represent a natural insect or insects but which will appeal to the rapacity and pugnacity of the gallant and active trout of the smaller streams.”
Lawrie made no mention of Woolley’s theory, that the West Country angler generally fished in the old fashion of across and down stream, whereas the North Country angler tended to fish up stream, as recommended by Stewart in the mid 19th century. Woolley’s ideas certainly make sense to me. D. T. N.
The oldest West-Country flies mentioned by Lawrie are H. C. Cutcliffes north Devon flies in his book
‘The Art of Trout Fishing on Rapid Streams’ 1863.
All the following flies are Wet flies but can be used as Dry flies if so desired, many of them are used as dries in other parts of the U.K.