In May 1854 the 'Durham Rangers Fishing Club' traveled
up to Scotland to fish the waters at Sprouston and at
Henderside on the Tweed. At the time Mr. Greenwell, was
a thirty-three year old clergyman from Durham. Presumably,
the first day out fishing the trout defeated him. Not to
be entirely outdone he captured specimens of a particular
natural fly that trout were exclusively feeding on.
The clergyman delivered his samples to the humble abode
of Mr. James Wright, the best-known fly dresser on the
Tweed. He asked, "Could you fashion some imitations from
these specimens" - pointing out exactly what he required
because trout were ignoring his 'March Brown' flies.
Because Greenwell was no revolutionary and dry fly fishing
was only in its infancy at that time, it is most likely
that the flies were dressed to be fished wet.
Mr. Wright sceptically made his flies. Next morning,
outfitted with his new fly, Mr. Greenwell had as
glorious a day's sport as he could ever remember. The
fly was an instant success – killing well over 32-lb.
After fishing, he promptly returned to order more flies.
James inquired, "What success did you have?" The clergyman
replied by showing his 32-lb. creel full to the brim and
all his pockets, stuffed full of trout. James them smugly
asked, "March Brown no doubt." Greenwell could barely
contain the smile on his face as he replied, "No almost
all on the new fly. Please dress me another dozen for
The next day was almost as good. At the end of the day,
there was quite a gathering. Assembled were members of
'Durham Rangers Fishing Club' party, the famous Kerss
brothers, a delighted Mr. Brown, the angling local
schoolmaster and James and Charles Wright. Someone
hen said, - "We have punch brewed and you must name
the fly". . .then, said Mr. Brown, "Are you all charged?
Then success to Greenwell's Glory."
I found some old stories by Pat Castle in a book titled
Angling Secrets, published by Oliver and
Boyd of London in 1948. Mr. Castle passes on two short
stories told to him by Miss Isabella Wright, the sister
of the famous James Wright who dressed the now world
renowned fly, the 'Greenwell's Glory.'
A DROUTHY BOATMAN
Rab, one of the best boatman but also a demon for whisky,
was one day in March ghillieing to Lord C. who was salmon
fishing on Spronston Dub. The first drift the whole length
there was never a rise. When his lordship reached the top
of the dub he pulled out a large flask and helped himself
to a good glass of whisky. Rab sat licking his lips in
great anticipation, but the flask was dumped in the bag.
Second drift not a pull, and when Rab pulled back again
out came the flask, but nothing for Rab. He could stand
it no longer and pulled for the shore. His Lordship said,
"Where are you going my man?" and Rab replied: "I am going
hame." "But I am not finished fishing yet," said his Lordship.
"Weel," says Rab, "If you can drink by yersel, you can fish
by yersel. I'm for hame," and he left Lord C. with the boat.
Another story of Lord C., from Miss Wright, who said of
her brothers that George, was the best angler.
THE MAN BEHIND THE ROD
He used to keep his rod under the spout at the back of the
house, consequently, with wind and weather, it was twisted
out of shape. One day he was ghillie to Lord C. trout
fishing below Spronston. His Lordship had the first of
the water, but George, fishing behind him was killing
trout after trout while Lord C. got none. So he asked
George, "How is it that you are getting trout while I
myself, getting the first of the water, get none?" George
replied, "Well sir, you have exactly the same flies as mine."
Shortly after, Lord C. said: "I believe there is something
in that rod of yours, George, what do you say to exchange
rods?" George received an up-to-date cane-built rod and
still kept killing trout. About five o'clock his Lordship
waded ashore and shouted to George, "I have found the secret
now." Shortly after George came ashore with his basket half
full of good Tweed trout. Asking Lord C. what was the secret,
C. replied: "It is the man behind the rod, not the rod George!"
Concerning Jamas Wright, I found some interesting information
on page 147 of The Anglers Weekend Book, 1935
by Eric Taverner and John Moore, I quote: WRIGHT, JAMES, of
Sprouston, Roxburghshire.-Born, 1829; died 1902. Was the
son of George Wright, who with his wife, died in 1846
during the cholera epidemic in that district, at a time
when James was twenty years old. The latter thus became
the sole support of himself and of the younger members
of the family. George Wright, who was a keen fisherman,
had been in the habit of dressing his own flies; but,
at the best, they were but rough productions. From these
flies James set to work to teach himself how to tie dressings
that soon were to make his name famous throughout the angling
world. From Brandling Gosforth, who is said to have been
the earliest fly fisher for salmon at Sprouston, James
obtained some patterns tied by skilful dressers elsewhere.
He took these flies to pieces and observed carefully their
materials and their construction, so that he was soon able
to reproduce them to perfection. At first he specialised on
salmon-flies with plain wings and established himself as
the finest dresser in this style.
By 1860 he had become pioneer and doyen of the fly and
tackle making industry on Tweedside. In 1862 he gained
at the International Exhibition the highest award - a
bronze medal-for his salmon and trout flies. In 1883 he
swept the board by carrying off two gold medals, the
first and second prizes and four diplomas of honour
for his salmon-flies. About 1860 there came many famous
fishermen to Sprouston: William Henderson (in whose book,
My Life as an Angler, there are several
references to the excellence of Wright's work), Canon
Greenwell of Durham, Captain Wilkinson and many others.
James Wright was the inventor or the first to reproduce
many patterns, the names of which are to the modern angler
household words: Silver Grey, Greenwell, Wilkinson, Sir
Richard, Childers, Sandy (Red Sandy is a production of
later years), Black and Blue Doctors, Durham Ranger (in
honour of a group of anglers who came to tweedside from
Tyne), Poynder, Thunder and Lightning and the Popham,
which was called after Mr. Popham, of Littlecot, near
Brighton, who came often to Sprouston. This was the
Popham who won the Derby in the 'fifties. Also, what
is perhaps the greatest trout-fly that has yet been
invented, Greenwells Glory, the original dressing of
which is given in Henderson's book (see Greenwell, p.466).
James Wright had thus established himself securely in a
niche in the Anglers' Pantheon and remained there, as he
ever was-modest and retiring-a great fisherman and the
kindest of friends. His business was the whole world and
his connection was such that he never advertised; and that
connection - for he never had a "shop" in the modern sense
- is still carried on at Sprouston by his son. James Wright
died from fever in 1902. ~ Alan Shepherd
Credit: The color photo of Greenwell's Glory from
Forgotten Flies published by Complete Sportsman.