One of the world's greatest perfectionists in the art of tying
fishing flies though she never fished herself
Megan Boyd, of Brora in Sutherland, was hailed by many as the
finest tier of fishing flies in the world. She began tying flies at the
age of 12 under the expert tutelage of a Sutherland keeper, Bob
Trussler, and quickly became an artist in the craft. She made her
reputation by tying classic and traditional flies such as the Jock
Scott, Silver Doctor, Durham Ranger and Wilkinson. She rarely
bothered to invent a new tying, though some of the most
complicated patterns that she tied can only be produced by an
expert of her calibre. Yet despite the huge numbers of salmon that
could not resist her flies, she never fished herself.
She did, however, give the angling world one creation that will
ensure that salmon fishermen never forget her name. With the help
of a friend and a client, Jim Pilkington, she devised a fly that
became widely known as the Megan Boyd,[see photo below] and it became her
trademark in dealing with fishermen around the world.
This blue-and-black fly catches salmon whether tied in the normal
manner on a single hook or as a tube fly. Many fishermen swear
that a tiny Megan Boyd, which she dressed on a minute tube with a
size 18 treble, will catch salmon in dead low summer flows when
most anglers would not expect any sport. Carefully used, with a
gentle touch, these little flies have often saved some of Megan
Boyd's more knowledgeable customers from a blank day.
Rosina Megan Boyd was the youngest of three children. She is
thought to have been born in England in 1915, and was taken to
Scotland in 1918 when her father became a bailiff or river watcher
on a Sutherland estate. During the Second World War she had
various jobs, including a spell doing a milk round and duties as an
auxiliary coastguard. Although she seems to have had little formal
education, she was never at a loss when dealing with her many
For over half a century she worked in her garden shed at
Kintradwell, overlooking the North Sea. A kidney-shaped dressing
table served as her workbench, and on it she tied flies with the
meticulous precision that was best described in a letter printed by
the Inverness Courier.
Jimmie Ferard, who has collected her work for many years and still
has more than two thousand of her flies, wrote to the paper: "Her
fly tying was unique. Surely one of the world´s greatest
perfectionists in this art. The trouble she took over just arranging the
pieces of hair for a Stoat's Tail fly had to be seen to be believed.
She used to put these hairs in the top of her lipstick holder with the
ends sticking out and she said they should never be trimmed or cut
as this was unnatural to the fish."
Boyd's flies had to be exactly right. The shape, the material, the
lengths and sizes all mattered terribly. The precision and deftness of
the fly-tier may be more important in the mind of the angler than to
the fish, though there is no doubt that the colour of the fly, its
sinuosity in water and its size play a great role in its success. The
actual presentation of the fly is also vital. Salmon want to protect
their habitat in the river and will fight trespassing foreign objects.
Nobody really knows why the salmon takes a fly, but many anglers
believe that the fish's reactions are triggered by infant memories of
its first encounters with the abundant food source that sand eels can
provide. In discussion, Boyd always came back to the baby sand
eels on which young salmon smolts feed when they leave their natal
rivers at the start of their oceanic migration. Sadly, she watched as
sand eel shoals suffered badly from the trawlers that scooped them
up from the sandbanks off the East Coast of Scotland, right outside
As a dedicated conservationist she was a major supporter of the
North Atlantic Salmon Fund and its efforts to buy out all the salmon
nets which obstruct the return of the small remaining stocks of wild
salmon to their native rivers to spawn. She regularly donated
wonderful examples of her flies to be auctioned around the world to
help this cause.
For most of her life she was full of energy, and she was a
much-loved local figure. Country dancing was her favourite
relaxation, and she took an active role in helping the old and disabled
locally. Electricity did not reach her house until 1985, when she was
already 70 and suffering, not surprisingly, from failing eyesight. A
few years later she was forced to retire.
But her talk always came back to salmon flies and their history, the
dressings and the vast number of renowned fishermen friends she
had made during her lifetime. She remembered Charles H. Akroyd,
the veteran sportsman from Duncraggie who devised the Akroyd
fly, sometimes called the poor man's Jock Scott. He had visited
Iceland's Big Laxá river in 1877.
In 1971 Boyd was awarded the British Empire Medal. Last year the
Prince of Wales honoured her with a visit, and she later said that
they had discussed the Popham, a very great fly. She said that if she
had to pick a favourite, this glorious creation would be her choice.
Originated by F. L. Popham, the pattern is one of the most
complicated and beautifully constructed of all the classic dressings
that Britain has given to the sport.
Megan Boyd, fly-tier, was born on January 29, 1915. She died
on November 15, 2001, aged 86."
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.