All About Fly Fishing!

The Black Dog

By Maxwell MacPherson, Jr.

black dog salmon fly

It seems of value to trace the historical changes that a particular fly went through from its original conception down to what it appears like today. My favorite fly, which is a real beauty by anyone's standards, is "The Black Dog". A small number of patterns appeared in Mackintosh's "The Driffield Angler" which was published in 1806. The dressing for the Black Dog is given below:

Wings: Bluish feather from a heron wing intermixt with spotted reddish ones of a turkey's tail
Body: Lead-coloured pig's wool from under the ear; ribbed small gold twist
Throat and Hackle: Large black cock's hackle
Head: Dark green mohair spun on dark green silk

The Black Dog underwent some changes before it was mentioned in Francis Francis' "A Book On Angling"-1885. The main feature that was to remain the same was the black cock's hackle. A Mr. Paton of Perth, Scotland wrote to Francis saying "The Black Dog and others no longer tak' their auld cloaks about them". The dressing given at the time of Francis' book is this one:

Tag: Silver tinsel
Tail: Topping
Butt: Black Ostrich herl
Body: Black silk ribbed with silver, red silk and gold tinsel side by side
Hackle: A black one all the way up the body
Throat: Very long fibered claret hackle
Wing: Mixed, with an underwing of golden pheasant ruff with slices of woodduck over, and over that mixed fibers of golden pheasant tail, bustard, dyed swan scarlet, yellow and orange, speckled peacock and some peacock herls, blue and red macaw, with one big topping over all.

The parts of the Black Dog that were to continue on to the present day fly of that name are the black hackle, the black silk body, and the beautiful wrappings of tinsel on each side of a floss rib. In the just previous mentioned Black Dog the floss rib is red silk, while in the one of more recent years it turns to yellow floss.

The George Kelson Black Dog, which is listed in that author's book "The Salmon Fly"-1895, is the one that is seen most often in our day. This particular variation is the one that a good number of people think is a most striking exhibition pattern. Mr. Kelson gives the following dressing for his version:

Tag: Silver twist and canary silk
Tail: A topping and Ibis
Butt: Black herl
Body: Black silk
Ribs: Yellow silk, and silver tinsel (oval) running on each side of it
Hackle: Black Heron from third turn of yellow rib
Wings: Two red-orange hackles (back to back) enveloped by two Jungle; unbarred summerduck; light bustard, Amherst Pheasant, Swan dyed scarlet and yellow and two toppings.

It can be seen by the transitions in dressing the "Black Dog" that there was a decided influence of the gaudy fly's birth in this particular pattern. This advent of change is typical of many flies as the years passed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. There are numerous examples of the alteration in dressing flies of the same name...too many to be recorded here. The student of salmon flies will find this tracing of the evolution in various patterns very interesting!

*Author Maxwell MacPherson of Alexandria, New Hampshire, is the owner of MaxFlies, a business specializing in Salmon Flies. The specialty of his trade is the gut-eyed fly dressed on antique hooks (blind eye), with silkworm gut eyes. Some of those hooks I have are between 100 and 120 years old. But they still look like they were produced yesterday!

Maxwell learned the art of salmon fly tying by apprenticing for 5 years with famed salmon fly historian Alex Simpson, of Aberdeen, Scotland. Collecting old books (one of his books dates to 1750) on the subject of salmon fly tying has provided Maxwell with an intimate knowledge of the history of fly tying and especially the various salmon patterns that have evolved over the years.

The image of the Black Dog above, was dressed by the author based on the pattern taken from George Kelson's "The Salmon Fly".