Sunshine and the Dry Fly

Dunne, 1924

n many ways this little book is a milestone and yet it has been forgotten, eclipsed by Skues' works. Dunne was one of the first authors to question the ascendance of the Halford school, which was at the height of its powers in the twenties. Upstream dry fly fishing was the rule on the southern English chalk streams and Halford's patterns sold in their thousands.

Dunne became fascinated with the idea of translucency in fly bodies and designed a series of flies which were tied with different coloured silks on white-painted hooks. Dunne’s train of thought was set in motion when he purchased a set of 'Halford' flies and found that they didn’t resemble the insects he saw very closely:

But to tell the truth, I was more than a little puzzled at the number of Test flies which were not included in the Halford series. Every day, and all day long, these neglected insects were hatching out in hosts. They were all duns, sober-looking duns with almost colourless legs and setæ, with wings varying from crinkled pewter to the tint of Sheffield plate worn thin, and with plain, monochromatic bodies varying from the palest honey to the darkest amber. I could only conclude that these flies were peculiar to the Longparish part of the Test, and that for the beautiful, barred olives, and for the cream-striped pale wateries, one must journey down-stream, Stockbridge way.

This is all great stuff, but Dunne’s patterns are no use to us now, because he chose to use a system of specially numbered artificial tying silks available only from one supplier, Wardle and Davenports Ltd. Dunne blended the silks in varying combinations to produce the body colour he wanted. Regrettably, the silks are no longer available, so the flies can no longer be tied with any great accuracy. However, the patterns are very interesting, because Dunne is one of the few who have led fly dressing into the realms of mathematics rather than art. Almost every aspect of his patterns was described with a number!

Dunne's flies were a bold attempt to solve the problem of translucency, but they had several drawbacks. The special silk (known as cellulite) was fragile, and one trout could ruin a fly. Worse, the artificials, which looked incredibly lifelike when backlit by the sun, lost all their translucency when a cloud passed over. The title of Dunne’s book was most appropriate, but the fact that the flies failed to catch on may not have been entirely due to the English weather. Flies tied to Dunne’s recipe were available via Hardy Bros. as late as 1966.


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