Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps?

Canon William Greenwell in his later years

The 'Greenwell's Glory' Tales

By Alan Shepherd, Australia

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. of trout.

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 tomorrow."

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."

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.'


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.


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.

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