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Silk has been used to tie flies since at least the fifteenth century in the UK and Spain, and Pearsall's Gossamer silk has been the favorite (at least in anglophone countries) since the company was founded in 1795.
Pearsall's Gossamer Silk is not used for dry flies (at least not in this age) as it absorbs water. It is as necessary as partridge, hen and hare's fur to tie soft-hackled flies, wet flies, spiders and flymphs (Google those words to find out more, or get "Wet Flies" by Dave Hughes or any of the books by Sylvester Nemes.) They're simple flies predating modern, more realistic (and deeper-fished) nymphs. They were invented to imitate emergers, drowned insects and spinners.
A warning: silk is more fragile than modern fly tying thread, it's a bit more expensive (but JS's prices are fantastic,) it's thicker... and it's addictive! Why should you get some spools? Sorin Comsa's review explains it well: translucency is the key. And you'll feel connected with history (and you'll like the simplicity and effectiveness of the flies.) The translucency issue is complex, but important. For example Leisenring, an American fly fishing pioneer, studied the way silk's colors "came through" the fur dubbing to make the flies look more alive, more complex. On the other hand, most soft hackled wet flies and spiders have a slim body that consists solely of silk.
So splurge, and at the very least get green, lemon yellow and orange. Other less used but good colors are red, purple, light olive, primrose yellow and gray.
I've just switched to Pearsall Gossamer silk when tying soft hackle wet flies, and it's terrific. Easy to use and gives a nice translucency when wet, an effect difficult to achieve with other materials. Perfect for wet fly applications.
I've read about the Gossamer silk a lot on the web and went to a couple of stores in Toronto to buy it.
-Nah, we don't have it!
-Too expensive; people don't pay that much for a thread. I couldn't even place a special order for it. So I gave up. BIG MISTAKE!
In 2006 during a competition, one of the competitors won a session after catching over 20 fish. I kind of knew what fly and two sessions later using a similar fly I had lots of fish to "come, take a look, and leave in a hurry" but only got 1 (ONE) fish with it, then used different flies and got my share for the session. After the competition I went on bugging him for details. He let me boil in my own juice and after a while he told me the most important detail: he used Gossamer silk for the body. IT IS TRANSLUCENT, as opposed to regular thread which is not.
So you might want to get at least a few colors in your kit. Being a competition angler I got them all.
This is the defacto thread for classic spiders and soft hackles. Nothing changes like silk when it gets wet. This is thicker than the ususal thread used for tying so thread control is a must to reduce bulk.
Being new to fly tying I was somewhat intimidated with using silk thread as I worried it required a skill level beyond my reach. After tying about two flies Pearsall Gossamer became my primary tying thread. Strong, great colors and forgiving of a novice. J. Stockard's is my go to for all my tying needs.
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