Flies of fancy..
We are entranced by the design of our flies; it has been said that the longer the winter is, the more elaborate those flies become.
The following account is from Fred Buller's fascinating book-The Domesday Book of Giant Salmon (2007) which 'contains the dates, weights and detailed catch history of every recorded Atlantic salmon over 50lb landed in Europe and North America, whether on the fly, by rod or other means'.
Interesting to read, as I have many times before, that game anglers 'of old' fished for sport, often using, as we see here, both spinning 'baits' and the fly, knowing the latter, however ornate, were not always the 'be all and end all'.
Michael Maher's 57lb Irish Record Salmon.
'Michael Maher took the Irish record rod-caught fish from the River Suir on one of his own homemade flies. Maher was a gillie on the Longfield water, which enjoyed good runs of salmon in 1874, when his fish was caught. The Suir is Ireland's most famous dry-fly trout river and, in the upper reaches, is not too dissimilar in character to the River Test. Sir Herbert Maxwell gave a full exceptionally well-written account of the capture of Maher's salmon in his book "Fishing at Home and Abroad". So impressed was I when I read of Maher's ingenious preparations prior to catching this huge salmon that I read the account three times over.
'The hero of this adventure and author of the fly in question was one Michael Maher; fisherman on Longfield water of the Suir; who started from home one spring morning in 1874, leaving his fly-book behind and taking only the Devon minnow as bait, for he had heard that the water was thick. He found it, on the contrary, very clear and seeing a very large fish rise near a certain big stone - a grand taking place - he determined to avoid the risk of alarming him with a sunk bait, and try a fly - however he only had with him a big hook or two for loach-fishing. There was a farmhouse at hand, however, and therein a maiden with whom Michael was on terms of friendship. From her he begged a bit of silk and some feathers from which to tye a fly on the spot, eventually using the fringe of pretty Phoebe's pink shawl. There followed a pinch of yellow-dyed swan fibres from Phoebe's Sunday hat. In half an hour, Michael had rigged up such a fly that as had never been displayed on the Suir or any other water - pink worsted body, a yellow swan wing and a hackle of a recently slaughtered cockerel wound under the same; and off he hurried to the river again. The big fish seized a strange fly at the first offer, and within half an hour Michael was on his way back to Cashel carrying his noble quarry with him. It constituted a record in weight for rod fishing on the Suir, famous as that river is for big fish, for it weighed 57 lb. Of course the first question asked by everybody who came to view the great fish was - "What fly did you get him with, Michael?" And to everyone the answer was the same - "Ah, that's a mysthery."
When at last the secret did come out, "the Mysthery," with suitable refinement of material and garnishing, was received with enthusiasm on many a river side, and was found to do quite as well as any other fly - and no better.
Viewed in the cold light of reason, such an incident as this ought surely to enable one to declare that it matters not one spin of a farthing whether the prevailing hue of a fly be red or blue, yellow or black, or an equal combination of many hues; and the only important consideration is that the lure be of suitable size and be given a life-like motion. Well, that is the conclusion to which I have been driven, malgré moi; but such is the weakness of the human intelligence that I have found it beyond my strength to act upon it.
There is such a mute fascination in daintily dressed salmon-flies, their outline is so graceful, their tints so delicately blended, or so cunningly contrasted, that no nature sensible of beauty can contemplate them with indifference.
Consequently, I supposed I spend as much time as anybody else at the outset of a days fishing in hesitating between the modest lustre of a "Silver Grey", the sombre dignity a "Black Dog", and the freakish gaiety of a "Popham" deaf the while to the monition of intelligence that the result must be exactly the same whichever is chosen. Truly it hath been said that salmon flies are designed for the delectation of fishers than for the deception of fishes.'
There is a more elaborate account of the taking of Maher's fish in Sir Hubert Maxwell's Memories of the Months indicating that Maher had been fishing all morning (without success) with a "collie", a famous and peculiarly Irish bait consisting of a dead stone-loach fitted to a spinning mount. At a later date, artificial stone-loach baits were manufactured. The collie was used for salmon during the spring months when the water was cold. According to Maxwell, Maher's home at Cashel was six Irish miles (whatever that meant) from the Longfield water. Interestingly, Maxwell tells us that the Mystery fly, suitably refined, became "deadliest of all (salmon) flies on the red bridge and Broadlands waters of the Hampshire Test".
One last nugget of information is revealed when Maher told the farm maid that he has seen the fish - "the biggest fish that ever swam in the Suir in Dawson Cradle".
Last edited by MHC; 10-31-2019 at 07:58 AM.