Fly of the Month – Jay of the Wood

Fred Klein Author, Fly tyer and fisher of early traditional flies. Fly fishing historian, author and speaker.

It was a morning that seemed to be made for a fly fisherman. A cloudless blue sky and crystal clear river flowing strong, fed from many cold spring streams beginning their journey high in the Appalachian Ridges. The early morning shadows were receding to bright sunshine in the deep forest of hemlock, sycamore and white oak. A perfect day to try an experimental fly, with tones of blue, black bars and the subtle shades of grey dun. Designed to appeal to the big fish of these waters, guarding their hidden lair from unwelcome visitors while hiding in the shadows from the ever present bald eagles cruising the treetops throughout the daylight hours.
The fly landed in fast water before swinging past an ancient submerged log, dancing in the sunlight as it drifted deeper into the current. In an instant a large shadow appeared, giving chase with the dominance and speed of a predator… after a blue jay wet fly tied in the tradition of centuries ago, a lure that is much more than a framed show fly seen behind glass and in classic literature.


 

Origins

With origins in England, Scotland and Ireland, the jay fly found its way to the robust waters of North America. Commonly found in fly wallets as anglers first set out to match their prowess in the wild and untouched streams and rivers of an unsettled land. Early literature provides many examples of the jay wing fly with descriptions and illustrations including Charles F. Orvis’ Fishing with the Fly 1883 and Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and their Histories 1892. Also detailed in Ray Bergman’s Trout in 1938 just before the onset of WWII. The fly thereafter faded in popularity, rarely seen outside of museums and show fly displays.


One day a fellow fly tyer asked “at what point is a fly tied simply for its elaborate beauty and not a fishing fly?” The notion raised a question that’s answer remained on the pages of history, surely this fly was not popular without good cause.
The predominant species pursued with the fly throughout northeastern America was the brook trout and salmon, which are attracted to colorful, elaborate flies popular during the Victorian era, also fueled by the presence of seamstress and hat makers materials available in every town. As the population grew and native trout habitat gave way to the industrial era, timbering and mining, the German brown trout introduced in the 1890’s soon became the most popular trout pursued with the fly. Anglers quickly recognized that this species has a more selective palette for natural presentations.

A Jay for Brown Trout


While fishing the traditional patterns of orange, yellow and red, I decided to create a pattern more suitable for brown trout. The European jay wing, ruffed grouse hackle and olive body have natural hues that blend together in the water and has become one of my favorite flies, a nostalgic and beautiful wet fly that is just plain fun to tie and swing through the current.

On the Waters

… the massive trout raced to take the fly with tenacity and with the splash of its tail turned back toward its sanctuary. With the sting of the hook, and rush for freedom, the bamboo rod bent and the click and pawl reel started to sing as the 6 lb. tippet gave way to the fury of the powerful fish, never slowing down for a moment… taking the fly with him and leaving a memory of a beautiful wild trout in its prime, and the fly that captured his fancy.
I hope that you too tie a few jay flies and swing them through your favorite waters.

Tying Instructions:

To view the step-by-step photo instructions for this fly that Fred has included, please click here to view the document.

Jay of the Wood Dressing
Hook: Partridge of Redditch Sproat Wet or Daiichi 1550 Standard Wet Fly Hook size 2 for large trout to size 14
Tag: silver tinsel
Body: olive floss *pure silk appears more natural in the water
Ribbing: gold tinsel
Throat: peacock herl to beyond the hook bend
Hackle: ruffed grouse shoulder *brown rooster or hen saddle works well
Wing: European Jay (American Jay is protected. Jay feathers can be readily purchased online, contact Fred from his website to find out how. )
Head: camel, brown or black 8/0 thread with several coats of clear lacquer
Author Fred Klein Fly Fishing Historian, Tyer and Fisher of Classic Flies, Speaker
Visit Grizzly King Fly for more historical fly fishing articles and classic fly gallery with over 350 flies at www.grizzlykingfly.com
https://www.partridge-of-redditch.co.uk/ Pro Tyer

 

One thought on “Fly of the Month – Jay of the Wood

  1. Freddy Block

    GREAT post Fred and the more I read about the history of flies, the more I want to read. I too wondered about “why” these classics are considered old-fashioned and not fished as they were in their days gone by. I doubt the fish are reading the magazines and blog posts about all the “new” materials and patterns; they’re just hungry!

    Thanks for a stellar read. Thanks to J. Stockard for posting this and the link to the step-by-step tying instructions.

    All the best – Freddy

    Reply

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