Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Evolution of the Featherwinged Salmon Flies- the Parson

The Parsons
The Parsons are some of the earlier feather-winged fancy flies, with the Stevensons and Rangers developing from them. Here we see them on size 2/0 Partridge CS10/3 hooks, using all the original materials for the patterns except for the Cock-of-the-Rock. The trio of Parsons at the bottom of the plate are on 2/0 Partridge 10/1 hooks and are my interpretations of patterns mentioned by the old masters but not fully detailed. This is why the modern hook, as it is a modern interpretation which I hope is accurate. The notes I have written are drawn directly from the original master as much as possible, or from Mikael Frodin "Classic Salmon Flies History and Patterns," Stoeger Press, 1991 as noted. 

Some history on the Parson.  Francis Francis, in his book "A Book on Angling" 1867,  introduces the Parson as; "This is a very showy fly, and is used chiefly on the Erne, but it is a capital fly anywhere where a showy fly is required. It is on the Erne rather a generic name for a series of flies than for any special one, as we have there, green parsons, and blue parsons, and golden parsons, and so on. The Parson being merely significant of plenty of toppings in the wing. The Golden Parson, however, is my idea of the fly, and this I will describe." *
Francis also says of the toppings  " These are often tied on with the turn bent upwards at Ballyshannon, and it gives them more play in the water."

* We will get into the actual pattern shortly.

In my investigations, especially with later authors where I have had illustrations as well as text to guide me, I have endeavored to tie the pattern as it was originally, but in reading these thoughts, and the list of patterns provided by Francis Francis and the Rev. Newland, who we shall discuss later, I can not help wondering what these flies would look like tied as for the Ballyshannon as Francis Francis suggests they were.  Something for the reader to visualize as he or she looks over the photographs.

Some more history from Francis Francis. 

In a letter from a Dr. Sheil the "courteous and and liberal proprietor of the Erne" to Francis Francis, (again from his "A Book on Angling" 1867)  we see how the pattern developed.

" My dear Sir,—I send four Parsons I have borrowed from Mr. Hobson, and I will send you a couple made with summer duck in the wing. The first ' Parson,' and called from him, was used by the Rev. Arthur Meyrick of Romsbury; it was two large toppings, a yellow body, yellow hackle, very thin twist run close together up the body—T mean half as close as in any of those flies I send. He said he got it from Lord Bolingbroke at Christchurch. He changed the body to orange; both were silk bodies.
' The late Mr. William Larket, of Derby, put cock of the rock in the wing. I think I put the first fur body to the fly—it was orange pig's wool. Mr. Larket and then Mr. Hobson altered the fur to a mixture of red and yellow. Mr. Hobson added to this the purple and fiery brown under the wing, which Pat McKay borrowed and adopted, and nothing has beaten this pattern."

 The Parson as per Pat McKay (Frodin). Originating on the banks of the Erne in 1836, as Newland says, this is believed to be the template for many of the fancy whole feather-winged salmon flies such as the Stevensons and the Rangers. The main feature of the wing is the single pair of Golden pheasant tippets, overlain with Cock-of-the-Rock, here substituted as Cock-of-the-Rock is very difficult and expensive to obtain' as it was back then also.
The Parson as per Pat McKay (Frodin)
Tip: Fine silver twist
Tag: orange floss
Tail: topping
Butt: none
Body: yellow floss
Ribbing: fine silver tinsel, closely wound
Hackle: lemon-yellow, wound palmer style
Throat: golden yellow, tied full
Wing: two tippets back to back, with three red-tipped toppings curved to meet the tail tip.  Wing should be as full as possible
Cheeks: cock-of-the-rock tied butterfly style, sticking out at the sides
Shoulder: none
Horns: none
Head: golden yellow pigs wool and black silk

The Parson as per Hobson and Larket(Frodin). An early Parson showing the paired tippets and Cock-of-the-Rock in the wing but with an addition of Teal over the Cock-of-the-Rock 
The Parson as Hobson and Larket (Frodin)

Tip: narrow silver twist
Tag: orange floss
Tail: topping and kingfisher
Butt: none
Body: fiery brown and orange pig’s wool mixed
Ribbing: medium silver tinsel
Hackle: olive yellow cocks hackle
Throat: claret dyed cocks hackle, tied in as a ruff after the wing
Wing: two tippets back to back, with three red-tipped toppings curved to meet the tail tip.
Cheeks: narrow strips of teal
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

The Parson as per Larket and Hobson.(Frodin) Another Hobson and Larket Parson, prettier then the last, but keeping to the established form of paired tippets and Cock-of-the-Rock
The Parson as per Hobson and Larket (Frodin)
Tip: narrow silver twist
Tag: mauve floss
Tail: topping, a few strands of tippet and kingfisher
Butt: none
Body: 3 turns golden yellow floss, three turns yellow seal merging into hot orange seal
Ribbing: medium silver tinsel over the seal only
Hackle: hot orange cocks hackle over seal only
Throat: three toppings tied as a throat, long enough to reach the point
Wing: two tippets back to back, thin sections of unbarred wood duck, with three red-tipped toppings over.
Cheeks: cock-of-the-rock followed by a small bunch of hot orange seal this is to be tied in as a small extra head
Shoulder: long blue kingfisher, tied in over the seal and standing out from the body
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

The Golden Parson as per Francis Francis. 30 years or so after it's beginnings, the original Parson has become the more colourful Parson as shown here, still very similar to it's origins though. Francis Francis writes of this as being a decidedly topping parson, a sort of bishop or archbishop, in fact, and not for every-day use; we only bring him out when the feelings of the salmon, having resisted all ordinary persuasiveness, require to be very strongly appealed to. 
The Golden Parson "Archbishop" as per Francis Francis 1867
Tip: silver tinsel
Tag: mauve floss
Tail: 2 toppings, tippet and kingfisher
Butt: none
Body: golden pigs wool merging into orange
Ribbing: oval silver
Hackle: golden orange over wool
Throat: red-orange, 2 or 3 short toppings over
Wing: tippet and cock of the rock, pintail or wood duck strips, 6-8 toppings over
Cheeks: Kingfisher
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

This is a variation of the Golden Parson as presented by Francis Francis as a more subdued offering.  He referred to it as a "capital working parson, a sort of for every-day work" 
The Parson (curate) as per Francis Francis 1867
Tip: silver tinsel
Tag: mauve floss
Tail: 2 toppings, tippet and kingfisher
Butt: none
Body: golden pigs wool merging into orange
Ribbing: oval silver
Hackle: golden olive over wool
Throat: medium claret, Jay over
Wing: tippet and golden pheasant saddles, pintail or wood duck strips, 3-4 or so toppings over
Cheeks: Kingfisher
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

The Yellow Parson as per George M.Kelson deviates in the colour of the body, but still keeps to true Parson form. This is from roughly 1895 or so and is also reproduced in J. J. Hardy's book "Salmon Fishing", 1907.

The Yellow Parson as per George M. Kelson
Tip: silver twist
Tag: violet floss
Tail: topping and tippet
Butt: none
Body: 2 turns yellow silk, followed by yellow seal
Ribbing: oval silver tinsel
Hackle: yellow from the silk
Throat: scarlet, veiled with two toppings
Wing: 2 tippets, strip of barred wood duck, 2 toppings over 
Cheeks: chatterer
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: none

In John James Hardy's book "Salmon Fishing," 1907, there is a lovely Parson pattern that, though called a Parson, bears no resemblance to any of the other Parsons mentioned, and shares with them very little in terms of commonality.  It is a nice fly however and the pattern is listed below next to the fly.  One wonders if this was really a Parson, or was it mislabeled?  It much more resembles the mixed wings from Newland, back in 1851.This pattern appears again in E. J. Malone's book "Irish Trout and Salmon Flies" 1984, with one single slight discrepancy.  He calls it the "Claret Parson" and lists in the wing "blue peacock" instead of "peacock wing," though in this case I think he is talking about the wing, not the throat or flank, which are the blue parts on a peacock. 
Parson as per John J. Hardy
Tip: gold tinsel
Tag: light orange floss
Tail: topping and chatterer
Butt: Black herl
Body: bright Claret Floss
Ribbing: gold tinsel
Hackle: bright Claret
Throat: Blue cocks hackle
Wing: tippet in strand, dark turkey, yellow, red and blue swan, peacock wing, bustard, golden pheasant tail, wood duck, teal, mallard, guinea fowl, topping over
Cheeks: chatterer
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

The Orange Parson as per Dr. T.E.Pryce-Tannatt. The Parson by 1914 had evolved to this lovely version, still keeping to the pair of tippets, Cock-of-the-Rock and the multiple toppings in the wing how-ever. This is probably the most commonly thought of version today, certainly the most popular.

Orange Parson as per Dr. T. E. Pryce-Tannatt 1914
Tip: silver thread
Tag: lilac floss
Tail: topping and tippet
Butt: none
Body: Orange floss, orange, scarlet, fiery brown seal, well picked out
Ribbing: oval silver
Hackle: lemon
Throat: Cock-of-the-Rock
Wing: 2 tippets veiled with Cock-of-the-Rock, 2 or 3 toppings over
Cheeks: chatterer
Shoulder: barred wood duck
Horns: blue and yellow macaw
Head: black

The Topping Winged Parsons
To introduce this subdivision of the Parson family, I present one of the later Parsons, that to me seems a throwback or a memory perhaps of the style of the patterns some 50 odd years prior to this pattern being described. I do not know if the wings on this version are to be tied inverted or normally, so will tie them normally. 

The Parson as per John H. Hale
Tip: silver twist
Tag: none
Tail: topping and chatterer sideways
Butt: none
Body: 3 turns gold floss, 3 turns gold seal, remainder orange seal
Ribbing: oval silver
Hackle: golden olive
Throat: orange, jay over
Wing: toppings
Cheeks: chatterer
Shoulder: none
Horns: blue macaw
Head: black

Hale's Parson, with its wing composed entirely of toppings harks back to a second branch, if you will, of the Parson family.  These early flies, all called Parsons were characterized by having wings entirely made of toppings, often inverted with the concave side up.  "To give better play in the water" as we have seen quoted earlier from Francis Francis.  The Parson is unique in that there are two entirely separate fly designs, equally valid and reputable that originated with this name.  Pat McKay in 1836 (Frodin) with his whole feather-wing design that we have explored previously, and Michael Rogan, who tied a series of flies for the Rev. Henry Newland, (“The Erne, it’s Legends and its Fly Fishing,” 1851).(Frodin)  These unique patterns are recognized as topping winged flies, but are separated in that the toppings were tied up-side down, i.e. with the concave side facing upwards. They certainly are strange looking flies as compared to more conventional types, but they are still beautiful none-the-less.

Frodin presents a pattern from 1850 as per Michael Rogan for one of these Parsons, and it goes as follows:
Tag: flat silver and purple floss
Tail: a topping, tippet fibres and two small chatterer feathers back to back
Body: two turns of golden floss silk, remainder golden yellow seal’s fur merging into hot orange seal’s fur
Hackle: a hot orange over the seal’s fur
Throat: six toppings tied to curve downwards (ed. note, concave side out)
Wings: seven or eight toppings tied to curve upwards (ed. note. concave side out)
Cheeks: a medium sized golden pheasant tippet feather on each side, about half as long as the wing.
Head: black ostrich and black silk

He mentions other Parson patterns presented in Newland, for example the Brown, the Fiery Brown, the Puce, the Purple and the Hobson Parson.  He also mentions that Michael Rogan popularized two patterns at a later date, a Green Parson and a Yellow Parson, with jointed bodies and at least the Green apparently bearing little resemblance to either of the Parson branches, being that it had a mixed wing, while though the Yellow was more closely resembling the original Parson fly, neither really made it into history.

One has to actually read Newland's book however to get the full idea of what was happening between 1836 and 1851 when it was published, during which time the Parsons were being invented.
The Parson as per Newland
"Before the arrival of our fishermen, it might be said to consist of two distinct genera, the Butterfly and the Mixed wing, each containing several species: but, some two or three years before the date of these conversations the fishermen had added to these a third genus of fly, differing in every particular from the other two; and this, from its inventor, was generally known by the name of  "the Parson."

 We will discuss the Mixed wings and the Butterflies in a separate section, and at that point it will be needful to keep the Parsons in mind as we do.  Returning to Newland and the Erne again though;

         Kill-Many as per Newland
"The Parson genus is much longer, slimmer, and more elegant. This class is known by their bright yellow wings, which are formed from six or eight toppings of the golden pheasant. In the original fly, which still bears the name of " the Parson," tail, tip, body, and hackle, are all yellow, as well as the wings, and the tinsel is gold; it is hackled over the wings with blue jay, or else fitted with wing- coverts from the kingfisher, with a black ostrich head.
This genus has three varieties, Kill-many, Kill-more, and Jack-the-Giant-Killer. The first differs from the Parson in having a claret body and hackle; the second retains the yellow body, though it is generally of a deeper shade, but has a bright crimson under-wing, and a strong splash of the same colour in the coverts; while Jack-the-Giant-Killer has a green body and hackle, with crimson or green coverts.        
Jack-the Giant-Killer as per Newland
The whole tribe are homed with yellow maccaw(sic), except the last species, which is red. The Parson flies are best adapted for stained water, as being better calculated to attract the notice of the fish; Jack is intended for sunshine;
Kill-many and Kill-more for dull weather.
The whole of this tribe of flies is expensive, and that is their principal draw-back; but the material of which they are almost entirely composed, the crest of the golden pheasant, is rare and difficult to procure.

       The Kill-More as per Newland

A cheap substitute for this class of flies may be thus made: yellow parrot-tail, yellow silk body, with a very full yellow hackle, mallard wings, with two small yellow hackles tied in with them, and hanging loose over
the back, maccaw(sic) horns."

Newland wrote his descriptions in 1851, but in 1847 Thomas Tod Stoddart published a book entitled “The Anglers Companion to the Rivers and Lochs of Scotland,” William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, and there-in, on page 242 is a table labeled  Salmon Flies, Irish Style and Pattern and in this table we find a pattern for the Parson. In its main details, it is very similar to the above as you will see.  It goes as follows:

Wings:  a bright yellow hook, wings formed of golden pheasant crests, with slips of the blue and buff macaw
Body:  yellow floss silk,  gold twist
Tail:  golden pheasant crest feather below ostrich herl
Comments: Most of these flies are favourites in the rivers Ness, Beauley and Shin

And there you have it, a version with no hackle, no jay shoulder or herl head, and with a herl butt, but otherwise a stripped down early Parson.  There is no mention of if the wings are tied inverted or not, but the suggestion is that they would be inverted, as the wing is described as a hook.  There is no evidence that I have found so far to suggest that this primitive Parson predates the 1836 Rogan version, and indeed I think this pattern, favourite or not, was perhaps meant as just a quickie version to fish and be done with. 

Michael Rogan’s father James Rogan apparently also invented a Parson fly, with a topping wing, though Frodin does not give a date.  This topping winged Parson is dressed as follows:
Tag: gold twist and yellow floss silk
Tail: two golden pheasant toppings
Body: yellow silk floss
Ribs: medium gold twist
Hackle: a light yellow cocks hackle
Wing: approximately fifteen golden pheasant toppings with red tips, tied concave side up.
Throat: two collar tied Jay feathers tied in before the wing
Head: black ostrich and black silk

If the astute reader will notice though, this is just the same pattern as the original Parson in Newland, sans sides and with the feathering doubled; two toppings in the tail, two jay in the collar and twice as many toppings in the wing.  

Another author to delve into the Parson complex is E. J. Malone.  He lists several Parson patterns and variations there-of in his book “Irish Trout and Salmon Flies,” Colin Smythe Ltd. 1984, and notes some very interesting historical notes as well.  He lists no less then three versions of the Green Parson, with one of them being Micheal Rogan's own dressing, and all of them mixed wings by the way.

He lists two versions of the Parson, both of which are topping wing flies, and three variations from Newland (see above), also topping winged flies.  None of these are mentioned as having the wings inverted.
 The Parson (1) as per E. J. Malone
Tag: silver twist and ruby floss
Tail: topping, Indian crow and chatterer
Body: golden olive pigs wool, with fiery brown pigs wool at the shoulder
Rib: gold and silver twist
Body hackle: pale yellow cock
Shoulder hackle: dark claret cock
Wings: cock-of-the-rock covered by five or six toppings
Horns: blue and yellow macaw
Sides: chatterer

 The Parson (2) as per E. J. Malone
Tag: yellow floss
Tail:golden pheasant crest
Body:yellow floss
Rib: gold tinsel
Hackle: blue jay over wings

Wings: six or eight toppings
Sides: kingfisher
Head: black ostrich

The reader will note that this is a pattern I have already presented above, but as Malone did not specify, and at the time I did not know how the wing should be tied, it is tied as usual, something I note also to be the case in the illustration to be found in Eric Taverner's book "Fly Tying for Salmon."  Seeley Service & Co.,  London, England, 1942

There is also a Yellow Parson, noted as a “present day dressing by Micheal Rogan” and it too is a topping winged fly. It is presented here as I believe it should look.  Of course, the wing may actually be inverted, but as this is supposed to be a modern pattern, I chose to tie it this way.
 The Yellow Parson as per E. J. Malone
Tag: oval silver and red floss
Tail: topping and paired jungle cock
Butt: black ostrich
Body: rear 1/3 yellow floss, front 2/3 green peacock sword herl
Rib: oval silver
Shoulder hackle: Yellow cock
Throat: long golden pheasant topping lying back to cover the hook point
Wings: golden pheasant toppings
Sides:  jungle cock

It is Malone’s assertion that it was in 1836 that Micheal Rogan created the Parson for the Erne, and it was a topping winged fly.  He does not mention in text the Pat McKay Parson, which Frodin has as being created in 1836.

Personally in this case I believe it was Pat McKay, in 1836 because he is listed also by Frodin as creating the Golden Butterfly, a fly very similar to the topping winged Parson, in 1810.  Frodin writes that this fly became the forerunner of the Parson flies, and the Rangers, Green Highlander and the Doctor series, though personally I do not see how as none of the Rangers, Highlanders or Doctors are topping winged flies.  If by this he means that being an early “gaudy fly” it paved the way to acceptance of the rest, then yes, I can agree with this, but otherwise, in terms of fly development, I think not.  Newland also states quite clearly that it was Pat McKay in 1836, who if he didn't invent the fly, took elements of many Parson flies fished at the time and amalgamated them into a standard fly.  

This is still preliminary work, with the photos to be replaced as better ones are taken, and the notes to be updated as new information is discovered.

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