Rooting through angling history trying to trace the origins of the North Country wet fly is similar to solving a good ‘whodunnit’. In this case no one person ‘dunnit’ – the many sparsely dressed North Country patterns have simply evolved through the generations.
Poverty probably played some part in the creation of the flies. A Dales’ farmhand, for example, earning a pittance and with a hungry family to feed, probably found it easy to fool a trout with a fly wrapped with a feather and a bit of fur.
With no fly tying vices or equipment it is likely that he could only manage one and a half or two turns of hackle. He probably also found the fly worked better if he somehow covered the remaining shank with a little rough hare’s fur – this is the orgin of a simple spider pattern.
Upland peaty regions are not the best places for gathering worms, so it may have been less time-consuming to tie a few sparsely dressed flies.
A growing list of flies
By the mid 1700s the North Country wet fly was established as a fish-catcher, and lists detailing killing patterns were steadily growing. These flies were characterized by a simple elegance — a thin, short body and a very sparse application of both dubbing and hackle.
The materials were, as you would expect, all locally obtained. Small feathers from various wild birds and game all provided suitable feathers – as well as a meal.
There was also no shortage of rabbit and hare skins. Farmers would employ the services of the local mole catcher, so the skin of the mole was also soon added to the list of dubbing providers.
While the ultimate goal of the early fly
I -% fisher was to fill his creel or pannier for the kitchen, it is likely that he also enjoyed the thrill of a hefty brown trout bending his simple fly rod. By the late 1700s catching trout and grayling with an artificial fly was looked on as a sport as well as a means of obtaining a meal.
North Country selection
The list of flies given here is by no means comprehensive; it’s as short as possible but can be used to cover the whole season. The selection probably won’t be to everyone’s liking — there are many regional and even local preferences. But all of the flies listed can be used to great effect on any brisk, stony river or stream.