The Spey flies are contemporaries on the fancy, gaudy, originally Irish classic salmon flies. The classics, such as Green Highlander, The Barron, Jock Scott etc all with a plethora of exotic feathers in the dressing, made available to the fly tiers through the expansion of the British Empire.
With the common prejudice that Scotsmen are notoriously cheap, it seems somehow fitting that nearly all the classic Spey flies are tied with commonly available materials. Wool, brown mallard, gold- and silver tinsels, cock hackles etc.
Today er often think of heron hackles, when thinking of Spey flies, but the fact is that in one of the earliest accounts of Spey patterns, patterns with heron are scarce. Arthur E. Knox’s book, Autumns on the Spey (1872) lists a number of now classic patterns, and the body hackles are all but a few “soft” cock hackles”, “… from the tail coverts - soft and fine…”. A few does prescribe heron, for instance the Gold Heron (Sic!).
The Lady Caroline was most likely invented by a famous, local fly dresser and salmon anglers, George Shanks, according to John Shewey (in his book, Spey & Dee Flies”. Shanks was born in 1828, dies in 1915, so the fly is from within that time span. It’s not included in Knox’s list from 1872, the flies of which he apparently got from Shanks, so it stands to reason that Lady Caroline was first tied between 1872 and 1915. For a long time a favourite in the Spey. Lady Caroline was first mentioned in Kelson’s book from 1895. It was most likely named after Lady Caroline Elizabeth Gordon Lennox of Gordon Castle on the Spey (where Shanks worked for many years).
The original dressing is as follows (Kelson, 1895):
Tail: Golden pPheasant red breast, a few strands only.
Body: Brown and olive green Berlin wool mixed together in proportion one part olive green, tea parts brown.
Ribs: From separate starting points, og gold tinsel (narrow), gold twist, and silver twist, wound the usual way, equal distance apart. Hackle: Grey heron, from tail (tied in at the point as usual), wound alongside gold tinsel.
Throat: Golden Pheasant red-breast, two turns. Wings: Two strips of mallard showing brown points and light roots.
Lady Caroline is still a great fishing fly, and mine are tied using (today) more accessible materials. I substitute the heron hackle for a long, grey ring neck pheasant hackle and I exclude the silver tinsel rib. Otherwise tied the same.
And why? I simply the love the look of the low set mallard wings. No, they don’t look like that after the first three casts, but the wings are mobile, vibrating in the water together with the long hackle. All you really need in a salmon fly.
Have a great weekend,
PoD: A Lady Caroline fishing fly, tied a few days ago when a few of the friends from the team at Ahrex Hooks and I got together and tied a few flies. I’m off to order some Berlin Wool - yet another rabbit hole.