Richard Henry (Dick) Wigram was born in England
on the 25th February 1903. Dick writes about his
early days of fishing in his 1951 book,The
"I caught my first fish at the age of four with my
nurse's large hand maintaining a firm grip on the
slack of my breeches. It was not a large fish, I
should say some where in the vicinity of two ounces.
My tackle consisted of an ordinary garden cane about
five feet in length, a piece of string, and either
a bent pin or hook, a small detail not worthy of
remembrance. Our cook, an unpleasant woman with a
mole on her chin, refused to cook it; so it was
returned whole to my trouser pocket to be taken out
and inspected at frequent intervals. Authority, in
the person of my sister's governess, eventually smelt
it out, and my first catch, with my breeches, was
taken away from me. I cried bitterly and refused to
As a teenager, Dick fished, or should I say pilfered,
the hallowed waters of the Itchen on the beat of
George Edward MacKenzie Skues, 'the father of nymph
fishing'. Skues first thought of young Dick as a bit
of a poacher, but judging by the comments below, he
must have taken Dick under his wing.
My career as an angler had begun, and from that day
to this I cannot see water in the form of lake, pond
or river without the desire to fish in it.
I believe that a grounding in coarse fishing is the
best approach to the art of fly-fishing, it teaches the
habits of fish and the playing and landing of them. The
small successes and many failures welding into more
stable contentment and enjoyment of angling which does
not necessitate the catching of fish to bring fulfilment
to the angler's day.
At the age of seven I was presented with a two-piece
Greenheart fly rod of ancient vintage, a reel without
a check, and fifteen yards of level casting line. The
reel and line lived under my pillow at night, and the
rod stood against the foot of my bed. I thought of
One day-one glorious day-I set out, with escort, to the
nearest trout stream, and there in a pool below a disused
mill I saw lying poised in the current those most
desirable of all living creatures-the speckled trout.
There were many days on the Midland streams, including
the waters beloved of old Izaak Walton, the Dove, the
Derwent, the Wye, in fact all over Derbyshire from Buxton
to Twyford-on-Trent. As a schoolboy all my summer
holidays were spent on the river bank fishing, with
permission on private waters, and often without
permission on still more private waters. I developed
a technique of watching the water with one eye while
watching for the keeper with the other. I learnt to
use cover, to avoid the skyline and to lie up in the
reeds or bushed when anyone came across the fields.
All this was good grounding. Pocket-money was not large
and had so many calls upon it that, at the age of twelve,
I was taught to make my own flies and spent many hours
in the factory of a well known tackle firm."
In Australia's Best Trout Flies published
in 1997 by Flylife Publications, Noel Jetson writes:
"My work as a photo-engraver put me in constant touch
with artists and their artwork for reproduction, and it
was in David Scholes' studio one day that a tall English
looking man delivered a gross of Red Tag dry flies to
David. I had met Dick Wigram in person. At the time I
wondered what David needed all those flies for. Now I
know only too well! From that day on my ideas about
fishing changed and I was keen to learn as much as I
could about my new-found sport. I enrolled in Dick
Wigwams' fly tying class with the Adult Education
Department and soon learnt how to transform hook,
fur and feather into flies. Not many people know
this little piece of angling history that I will pass
on, as Dick was a very modest man and would not have
done so himself. In The Chalk Stream Angler: Sidelines,
Sidelights and Reflections G.E.M. Skues refers
to a boy called "young Dick" in the chapter The Rising
Generation, Skues writes: "My one regret about that
young man is that I shall never be here to see how he
shapes up when in his prime." Well, I did, Mr Skues.
He was a great fly-tier and angler; it was an honour
to have known and studied under such a man."
In his book, The Chalk Stream Angler: Sidelines,
Sidelights and Reflections Skues states: "Young
Dick-another fourteen-year-old - is going to be a mighty
angler before the lord. Already he ties trout flies with
quite a professional touch to them."
Skues was born in Canada on the 13th August 1858; he died
9th August 1949. In England, he first pioneered nymph
fishing amid considerable controversy. Skues studied
stomach contents of trout he caught by placing the
contents into a shallow white bowl filled with water.
He would gently agitate the mass separating it into
identifiable insects, or parts of. With those
particular insects he experimented with flies to
imitate them. In those days fishing a dry fly was
considered fair means, rather than the foul wet fly.
A bitter dispute was fought between Skues and the
dry-fly purist Frederick Halford. The nymphs Skues
made were unweighted and the fly was fished in or
just under the surface film therefore, it was a foul
ungentlemanly method, which eventually led to Skues
being banished from his beloved Itchen. Skues would
cast his unweighted nymph only to rising fish thereby
nymphing the film, often a more productive method than
fishing the dry.
In 1924, at the age of 21, just 60 years after the
introduction of brown trout, and only 27 years after
rainbow trout ova were introduced into Tasmania, Dick
and his brother John immigrated to Tasmania, the
'Island State' south of mainland Australia. Doubtlessly
Dick would have taken a great interest in reports of huge
trout being caught in Tasmanian rivers and lakes. An
interesting fact concerning the introduction of brown
trout to Tasmania is that Dick Wigrams great uncle,
Money Wigram, donated space on one of his ships - the
Norfolk. Two previous attempts to transport fertile
trout eggs half way around the world, and across the
equator had failed. The Norfolk shipment was successful,
and from that delivery, brown trout eggs first hatched
in Australia on the 4th of May 1864. From the progeny
of 38 trout introduced into the Plenty River, in January
1866 and the 133 retained in the hatchery, came the Brown
Trout Salmo trutta, now populating Australia and New Zealand.
Let loose in rivers, brown trout grew to record sizes,
having few aggressive competitors for food. In this new
land of bounty, populations spawned annually and dispersed
rapidly through the process of natural migration and
propagation, sometimes helped by man. In November 1887
a brown trout weighing 29 pound and measuring 35 and a
1/2 inches was caught by the then Governor Sir Robert
Hamilton. In 1925, the year after Dick Wigrams arrival
in Tasmania, a Major R. J. McIntyre caught a Brown Trout
Dick Wigram had arrived in trout-fishing-heaven.
For much of his life Dick lived around Longford in Northern
Tasmania, close to the South Esk and Macquarie Rivers. He
would fish almost every day and his favourite river was
the Macquarie, a river famous for its 'Red Spinner mayfly
hatches. He was a professional fly tier with a team of
fly dressers supplying trout flies to the Australian market.
Wigrams Brown Nymph is commonly called a Pot Scrubber Nymph,
is without question, Tasmania's most famous nymph pattern.
In an article reprinted in Freshwater Fishing in Australia
and New Zealand 1981, the introduction of Wigrams Brown
Nymph to Tasmania is noted as occurring in 1935. After
talking to Jos Sculthorpes' son Roger, I found out that
the use of copper wire from a pot-scrubber for the rib
occurred some time later. Roger remembers how anglers
such as Dick Wigram, David Scholes, General Wordsworth,
Max Christensen, Dr Pyper, Bre Lutwyche, Frank Wadley,
Jos Sculthorpe and others would meet at Sculthorps
Fishing Department in Brisbane Street on Friday afternoons.
They were talking fishing, planning weekend manoeuvres,
and most likely telling tall stories. One day as a bit
of a joke, Frank Wadley came into the store with a huge
nymph dressed on a 1/0 hook. For the rib he had used
copper wire from a pot scrubber so they jokingly called
it a Pot Scrubber Nymph. Dick being a true salesman saw
the marketing potential of such a name. His original
Brown Nymph pattern had no thorax and a full body rib.
With the addition of a pronounced thorax and the pot
scrubber rib adaptation, Wigrams' Brown Nymph became
The Pot Scrubber Nymph.
In 1955, Mr. Wigram hurriedly returned home to England
on family business. Whilst there he tied flies
commercially for Ogden Smiths, Farlows and others.
He stayed in England from 1955-56 and for some time
he lived on the Avon River in a five-room cottage.
During this time on the Avon, Dick fished with Frank
Sawyer, who many consider 'the master of the weighted
nymph'. Sawyer began writing about nymphs after reading
Skues' books Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream
and Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout.
In 1945 Sawyer actually met Skues, a rather frail
90-year-old that still had a needle-sharp mind. When
Wigram and Sawyer met, one can only ponder as to what
they talked about and how the conversation concerning
nymphs and nymph fishing may have transpired. One
would like to think that while fishing together, their
recently departed mentor was looking down with a twinkle
in his eye, as they caught a brace or two, using nymphs.
Sawyer was a practical man; he made his Pheasant Tail
Nymph using copper wire rather than thread. This
enabled him to easily vary the weight of different
flies. His flies were no works of art; in fact they
were rough looking but efficient. Sawyers aim was to
concentrate on what he believed were the key elements
trout look for in a nymph. Those being, a slim
streamlined silhouette with legs flat against
the body, gill movement along the abdomen and
short fuzzy tails.
Concerning fishing and the nymph, Dick Wigram writes in
his 1946 book Anglers Guide to Tasmania:
"The nymph for use in all kinds of water, fast, slow,
broken or smooth is rapidly becoming more popular with
fly fishermen. It should hold just as much fascination
as does the dry fly and is often infinitely more deadly.
The only occasions when it is of little use appear to be
at times when trout are feeding on spent spinner or smut.
The nymph has a great advantage over the dry fly in that
it can be used to fish water where drag would be certain
to occur with the floating fly. As such places are often
tenanted by the best fish in the river, to whom drag is
as popular as raw meat to a vegetarian, it would seem
logical to offer them an underwater lure. Most of the
nymphs in their natural state are sombre in colour,
ranging from pale yellow to darkest brown. The most
successful patterns are made from seals' fur, which
looks alive and translucent in the water.
In Dick Wigrams book, The Uncertain Trout,
published in 1951 Dick writes:
It is important to imitate the movements of the
natural larvae where possible. It must be
remembered that these insects can move only
slowly and do not swim much against the current.
In process of hatching to the sub-imago they may
be found near the surface and at this stage are
most readily taken by trout. The line should be
kept floating and if preferred the cast can be
greased to within a link or so of the fly.
There is often little indication of the "take"
other than the sudden sinking of the cast or a
slight hump in the water.
A quick eye is needed with perfect co-ordination
of hand and eye. The nymph has been found most
successful in all Tasmanian waters and at all
times throughout the season."
"The larvae of the Ephemeroptera are lively little beasts.
They swim with an undulating movement of the body, their
legs move, and the breathing gills situated on the sides
of the body are constantly pulsating. How then should
the nymph be fashioned by the fly-maker to prove
attractive to trout? It must give the appearance of
life in the water, it must be more or less translucent,
it must be the correct colour. Stiff material is
obviously no good and silk will not give a
resemblance of pulsation to the body. The very
slightest movement of a fur-bodied fly in water
will cause the loose ends of fur to sway and waggle
in the water in a most convincing manner: Apropos of
this it must be remembered by the fly-maker that the
under silk will show through when the fur is wet.
Mixing fur with wool is rather a tedious job but
the addition of wool makes a big difference to the
finished product. It helps bind the fur together
and to fasten the body more firmly to the hook. Two
parts of fur to one of coarse unspun (but scoured)
wool is an ideal mixture. Tease it out by putting
the two together and pulling the whole into small
pieces-repeating until the fingers ache. It takes
about fifteen minutes to mix an ounce.
Dick Wigram died after a car accident in 1971.
Even the old cruiser likes a nymph. A few months ago
I found one in the Macquarie wandering up and down
a long bank of weeds and having a great time with
all sorts of dainty bits that had collected in the
slack water. He passed my Black Spinner three times
and not once did he take the slightest notice of it.
The next time he came drifting along there was a
nice little Brown Nymph waiting right in his path
and sinking ever so slowly towards the bottom. It
seemed to breathe because there was a sort of
fluttering movement all over the body as the water
pushed against the ends of the fur. Poor fish!"
For the Boffins
The Wigrams Brown Nymph was first dressed to represent
nymphs of the Tasmanian mayfly nymph Atalophlebia
australis, commonly called in the spinner stage,
a Red Spinner. The actual nymph is flattened and it is
a poor swimmer. The colour when viewed from above is
a muddy mid-brown, below the colour is paler. About
two thirds of the body is segmented abdomen with seven
pairs of gills on the upper sides. The other parts of
the body consist of the strongly built thorax and the
head with slender, pale semi-transparent brownish-yellow
antennae, about half as long as the head. The eyes are
black. Before emergence the body length is 9 - 11 mm
and the three medium brown tail filaments are 10 - 14
The fly can be also be made in different colours such
as green, brown, black or blends to imitate Atalophlebia
albiterminata, which, in the spinner stage known
as a 'Black Spinner'. This nymph has a greyish pulmose
gill structure, enabling the nymph to inhabit slow
flowing or still water. As a nymph, this species is
cryptic (blending with the colour of their habitat),
becoming either greenish-brown, dark greenish-brown,
dark brown, dark grey or blackish. Before emergence
the body length is 10 - 13 mm. The three 10 - 14 mm
long tail filaments are medium brown or greyish brown
with black bands.
Wigrams' Pot Scrubber Nymph can be fished anywhere,
at any time, but it is most effective when fished
upstream on rivers when mayfly hatches are occurring
in late spring and early autumn (fall). In the colder
highland lake country, it is fished when the naturals
are active - from December through until late February
or early March. Generally in lakes, this nymph is
fished in a natural looking manner using slow
patient retrieves. It is often fished on a two
fly rig, hanging below a dun.
Materials Pot Scrubber Nymph (Dick Wigram)
Hook: Size 10 or 12 down-eye wet fly hook.
Tail: Three or more brown cock hackle fibres.
Ribbing: 4 or 5 turns of flat copper strip, the
original pattern calls for a strip obtained from a
copper pot scrubber.
Abdomen: The abdomen occupies about two thirds
of the hook shank. It is dubbed with a blend of dark
chocolate wool cut up with the individual fibres
teased out before equally blending with dark brown
seal's fur. The ratio is about 1 wool : 2 seals fur.
Thorax: The same dubbing mix as the abdomen. It
is made using figure '8' binding and it is about twice
as thick as the abdomen.
Legs: Some of the thorax dubbing is picked out
with a dubbing needle to give the appearance of legs.
Wing-case: The original fly has no wing-case.
Head: A well formed head, finished with black head cement.
1. Wind brown thread down shank to bend. The tail fibres
are also locked in during this operation.
2. Tie in flat copper strip or if available a
strip obtained from a copper pot scrubber.
3. Evenly blend dark brown seal's fur with dark
chocolate wool 2 : 1 ratio.
4. Dub two thirds of the hook shank.
5. Wind 4 or 5 turns of ribbing and tie off. Cut
off excess if no weight is required (if a weighted
fly is required wind excess wire to form base of thorax).
6. Make the thorax about twice as thick as the abdomen
by dubbing using figure '8' binding.
7. Make a well-formed head, finished with black head
8. Pick out some of the fine hairs of the dubbed thorax
to give the appearance of legs, also do the same to the
abdomen to give the fluttering look of gills.
Comments: The main thing about this fly once wet
is the fluttering movement all over the body, which
is achieved by mixing seals fur and wool. Today a
small amount of fiery brown seal's fur is put in the
blend. The pot scrubber rib pushes the dubbed body
down giving a segmented look. When the fur is teased
out it should quiver ase nymph-like gills. Although
not in the original Pot Scrubber Nymph, a dark brown
to blackish wing-case (shown here) is sometimes added on weighted
nymphs for fishing deep. As an emerging nymph, the
copper rib is replaced with imitation copper wire for
less weight and cock hackle is wound at the head and
trimmed flat underneath. ~ Alan Shepherd