A Pumpkin Story
Throughout the history of fly tying, the subject of the "right" colour has stimulated much debate. Is the reported success of a particular pattern due to the precise colour?
By Paul Marriner
Throughout the history of fly tying, the subject of the "right" colour has stimulated much debate. Is the reported success of a particular pattern due to the precise colour? Many argue, "yes." I'm reminded of several examples. Frank Sawyer's Killer Bug was originally tied with Chadwick's Wool, Number 477. This material disappeared and substitutes were suggested. But were they as effective as the original? Not for many reporters.
Closer to home is the case of Art Flick's Hendrickson pattern. He called for the urine-stained fur of a vixen for the dubbing. Now give me a break, please! That colour will vary with the age of the fox and her diet. Unless one has a piece of the pelt that Flick used, any claim to precise duplication is suspect. I remember, many years ago, having fits trying to match his pattern. The colour was given in various texts as pinkish, pinkish-orange, and several other equally unilluminating descriptions.
More to the point, what makes amateurs believe that professional tiers have access to the identical coloured material down the decades? They have the same supply problems. When faced with a hiccup in the supply of the colour their original, now-famous, pattern used, they are forced to find substitutes.
Enter the fly-tier's greatest friend, Jean-Guy Cote, the owner of UNI Products. He was determined to market a close-as-possible match for the body colour of the original Gray Ghost. Where to start? Most of us would head for the streamer-fly "bible," Streamers and Bucktails: The Big Fish Flies, by Joe Bates. Although the recipe isn't much help, as the body is described as "Dressed very thin with orange silk," in an earlier chapter
Bates describes the colour as "yellow-orange silk, rather than red-orange." This is also the colour specified by Dick Stewart in Trolling Flies for Trout & Salmon. Although Stewart variously refers to the colour as golden yellow as well as yellow-orange, his detailed comments were, The color of the floss has frequently been described as orange and fly tyers often use the darker "burnt" orange or "bittersweet" orange, however the correct color is the lighter shade which is almost identical to the color of a Golden Pheasant crest feather. This was the shade of the original English Pearsalls "orange" silk and also the shade of orange rayon used by Carrie Stevens. Stewart, like Bates, had access to samples tied by the originator, Carrie Stevens.
To try and settle the matter, Jean-Guy wrote to Bill Thompson of Freedom, NH. Bill owned a fly shop and is acquainted with several of the principals. Reducing his detailed response to its essence, he has sufficient evidence to believe that not only did Carrie Stevens use both colours, but possibly several others as well. Why? Because her material suppliers were a Five and Ten Cent store and a mail-order milliner's outlet, neither of which could likely guarantee consistent colour. So, over a lengthy career, it's not surprising that the body colour of her flies varied. The only sure way to settle the minor controversy would be to have access to the original fly, presumably impossible.
Based on these observations and after comparing several colour options, Jean-Guy chose the best match. Calling the new shade "Grey Ghost" would have suggested an inappropriate degree of certainty and so it became "Pumpkin." Presently, Pumpkin is available in both UNI-Stretch and UNI-Floss.
About Paul Marriner
A member of the Outdoor Writer's Association of Canada and the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Paul is the North American columnist for the outstanding Australian magazine FlyLife, a columnist and Associate Editor of The Canadian Fly Fisher, a columnist for Fly Fish America and The Fishing News, a Regional Editor for Outdoor Canada Magazine and Fly Fisherman's Virtual Fly Shop, and a masthead contributor to The Angling Report.
Paul has had several hundred articles published in all major North American fly fishing, and many outdoor, magazines as well as in several overseas foreign language publications. He authored Atlantic Salmon - A Fly Fishing Primer (an Outdoor Writers award winning book in 1994), The Ausable River Journal, The Miramichi River Journal, and Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies (an Outdoor Writers award winning book in 2000). In 1991 Paul won the Gregory Clark Award for outstanding contributions to the arts of fly fishing.
A fly fisherman for more than thirty years, Paul has angled for Atlantic and Pacific salmon, trout, bass, and other fresh and salt water species in a dozen countries around the world. He is an eight time member of the Canadian team participating in the World and Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships and was the Captain of the Canadian team from 1994 to 1996 and again in 2000. Paul organized the Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships in 1993 at Nimpo Lake, BC. He has also made numerous appearances as a lecturer on fly fishing and fly tying.
Paul and Nancy live in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.