Published Jun 26. 1995 - 28 years ago
Updated or edited Mar 11. 2023

How to dress salmon flies

This is a very quotable book. I like short, concentrated books, that don't waste too much time on repetitions and smalltalk. Mr. Pryce-Tannatt is a writer just after my heart, when it comes to that. He does not beat around the bush and talk in length about things that don't concern the subject.

Mon, 26 Jun 1995 01:59:17 +0100 (MET)

How to dress salmon flies
How to dress salmon flies
Global FlyFisher

Fly tyers and book lovers,
As promised not so long ago, I hereby submit the review of a 'classic' in the true meaning of the word. A book originally published in 1914, but later reprinted several times. Put to my disposition by a generous list member. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention...

  • T.E. Pryce-Tannatt: How to Dress Salmon Flies
  • First published 1914, Published by Adam and Charles Black, London 1977
  • Price: Present price unknown, but I've seen it recently in Denmark and it should still be available.

First I look at a book that deals with stripers, a fish I'm very unlikely to meet in my home waters, and now I shed my light on a book on salmon fly tying... And not just any book, but an old one, dealing with fly tying in a very un-contemporary way. And I never fished for salmon one single day of my life.
Have I gone completely out of my mind?

No, of course not. One of the great things about tying flies is the diversity of patterns and methods, and I'll stick my head out and say that any fly tyer can learn from studying almost any kind of tying. My own tying -- mostly very simple and rather large streamer types of flies -- has improved drastically by studying intricate, small dry fly patterns and the technique used for them. I've also read about salmon flies before, and even though I'm not very good at neither dries nor salmon flies, I still believe that knowing what I know about these
flies add to my ability as a tyer specialized in my particular kind of flies.

And there's always something to learn, even from -- or should I say especially from -- a book from 1914.

This is a very quotable book. I like short, concentrated books, that don't waste too much time on repetitions and small-talk. Mr. Pryce-Tannatt is a writer just after my heart, when it comes to that. He does not beat around the bush and talk in length about things that don't concern the subject. On the contrary he aims directly for the essence, and accounts for it in a way that often makes it necessary to read every line twice or more to get all the information packed in there.

His English is nothing less than beautiful. Not only because it belongs to an era where language was different, but because each sentence has a rhythm and a structure that makes it a natural whole. It's a pleasure to read a book as this and I often caught myself giggling with joy over the beauty and precision in a paragraph. This is one of the great blessings of this book.

Pryce-Tannats view of the tying is not so different from that found in many modern books. It seems quite up to date, which is hardly surprising when the type of flies are taken into consideration. The principles behind classic salmon flies have indeed changed very little -- if at all -- since 1914. Therefore any fly tyer will be very well educated on names, proportions and proper choice of materials after having read the first
couple of chapters in P-T's book.

Not before hooks and tools are mentioned does one really feel the age of this book. P-T ties on blind hooks only (no eyes) and argues against the use of eyed hooks in this way:

...apart from the fact that they [the eyes] crack off very readily in windy weather, it is not easy to specify their disadvantages in many words.

He does so in length anyway and concludes among other things:

Perhaps the greatest enemy to the eyed hook is the badly designed and badly made eye which figures on quite 99 per cent of all eyed salmon fly hooks

The gut loop is P-T's way of eying a hook, and this of course makes his flies look even more 'classic'. He does choose the gut from practical reasons also -- not only aesthetic ones.
In his chapter on tools he says what many have said after him on scissors and pliers. He uses a very small selection of good tools, but completely missing among these is the vice. P-T recommends tying without a vice, because, as he says:

Professional tyers usually dispense entirely with it on the grounds that they have far more complete command of the fly in all its stages, and can see better what they are doing when they rely upon their fingers alone.

So there! OK, he does tie big flies (up to several inches), but still I consider using the hands exclusively an impressive task -- especially when taking into consideration that bobbins and bobbin holders are completely unknown and tying is done with short strands of silk while holding this thread and materials 'in catch' and 'in hold' with the hand that holds the hook as he describes it.

P-T goes through a series of patterns, from the wingless grub to the winged patterns and spey flies. Each pattern adds a new set of methods and in each description he does not repeat identical processes but refers to methods already described. This makes the descriptions very compact, and even though it's more demanding to read, it puts the reader in a position where full understanding of the previous chapter is required before you go on. This makes the book an ideal but also quite demanding teacher.

Of course you could argue that descriptions of how to tie old flies using old materials and methods -- and no vice -- are not very useful nowadays. But not so. P-T does get very good points across in every chapter, and gives sound advise that can be used by every tyer. You can be mused by some of the methods, but still they make good sense.

The book is filled with drawings. These are -- like the tying methods -- based upon holding the hook in the hands, but still give a lot of tips on preparing and handling materials, just like the text.

The drawings are B/W and done with a pen, and clearly demonstrates a point I've made before: drawing can be superior to any kind of photo when it's used for instructions. The artist can add or deduct on details according to importance. The artist here has done exactly that.

The second best part of the book (the best is still the language) is the 'tables' in the back. These tables are color photos of flies described and referred to in the text. I lasted a while before I realized why I loved
these photos so much. Normally I find salmon flies a bit 'too much'. They are too colorful, often dis-harmonic, impractical exhibition pieces which are not necessarily tied with fishing in mind. I've rarely seen the 'classic' patterns tied true to the original, except for framing and selling at high prices. Any other classic salmon fly is liable to be very much unlike the original. For fishing, they don't tie them like they used to.

Looking at these flies, I realized that I was looking at fishing flies... 'real' flies. Most of these flies are compact with low wings indicating a fly that will endure fishing. Also they are much less colorful than most
of the fancy salmon flies I've seen in other books. I'm a natural color fan ('earthy' as someone has put it) and it was a relief to see salmon flies that were kept mainly in brown, tan, and subdued yellow and orange hues.
These flies look effective, and still very beautiful. They are not tied by P-T himself (***), but added later on in a reprint and tied by the Welsh tyer Terry Griffiths whose style seems much like P-T's own.

As John Vinyard remarks in his closing chapter added to the book in the 70's P-T's flies represent 'craft' and not 'art' -- and that's the way it should be (says I, not Vinyard)

This is a book that I would not recommend to the beginner. Even if you want to tie salmon flies I'd say you'd be better off with many other books. But when your tying skills have reached a certain level, it's time to look around for books that can widen your horizon.

This book will certainly do that. You might not be able to use it in any specific manner, but you'll learn a lot and have some joyfull hours.
Happy reading

(***) I was later informed that this is not true. The flies are actually tied by P-T himself. Sorry...


Martin Joergensen's picture

D Marson, The boo...

D Marson,

The book is available from the Paul Morgan's Welsh bookstore Coch-y-Bonddu. There are currently several copies available from about 25-30.- UK£


Great reading, This ...

Great reading, This is a book i have been after for along time,and after reading this article makes more determend to get a copy, but so far been unable to find a copy in the uk, CAN YOU HELP. I know it was reprinted in 1986 by Charles Bllack.d

One of the best book...

One of the best books I have read on salmon fly-tying and as far as I am concerned the bible for fly-tiers of salmon flies, especially the older patterns, which are both a joy to tie and a joy to fish.


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