The Lady Caroline

The classic Spey flies are beautiful flies, and one could point to several flies, but among the most classic of the classics is The Lady Caroline. As stunning and beautiful as the “fancy flies” are, I find the Spey flies as beautiful in their simplicity and subtle nuances.

Photo: The Fly Fishing Nation

They are undoubtedly a product of what the local Spey-side fly fishers had available. Very few of the flies have materials that wouldn’t be readily available at most farms or after an estate shoot. That’s not to say that some of the materials are hard, if not impossible to get today, but in their own time, most of them weren’t.

I’m not sure how the pattern is. Arthur E. Knox doesn’t list it in his classic book from 1872, “Autumns on the Spey”. It’s listed in George M. Kelson’s book, “The Salmon Fly” from 1895, so The Lady Caroline may be from the time between the two books. However, Kelson describes it as “An old standard Spey fly”, which indicates that it could very well be older. That’s maybe a subject for a future blog.

Kelson gives this dressing for the fly:
Tail.- Golden pheasant red-breast, a few strands only.
Body.- Brown and olive-green Berlin wool mixed together in proportion of one part olive-green, two parts brown.
Ribs.- From separate starting points, of gold tinsel (narrow), gold twist, and silver twist, wound the usual way, an equal distance apart.
Hackle.- Grey heron, from tail (tied in at the point as usual) wound alongside gold tinsel.
Throat.- Golden pheasant red-breast, two turns.
Wings.- Two strips of Mallard showing brown points and light roots.

All simple materials, although the heron can be hard to get today. But still not an easy fly to tie. I think most who’ve tried know that tying the low set mallard wings can be a struggle. Arthur E. Knox says: “Spey flies properly so called are simple and both in composition and appearance they are tied with as much skill and care by best native artists as is exhibited in the fabrication of the most complicated gaudy lures…”

The beautiful barred mallard feathers can be a struggle to tie in – but with a little help from Håkan you will soon be able to set a nice pair of low strips of mallard.

Looking at The Lady Caroline you find the two common traits of the classic Spey flies: The low set wings and the long body hackle. They are as effective today as they have always been and personally I always carry a few in the box. When tied for fishing, be mindful that the body hackle is tied sparse. First of all it moves better, but a hackle too dense also tends to turn the fly on its head.

Here Håkan shows you how to tie The Lady Caroline.

Tie on the thread and tie in the tail. Snip out the centre of the feather and tie it in over the stem and pull it to length. Make sure the tail sits over the point of the hook.
Håkan has left out the third rib on this fishing fly and ties in the two ribs on either side of the hook.
Tie in a length of ruddy, brown wool If you have it, by all means use Berlin wool dubbing.
Wind the wool, tie off and follow along with the flat gold tinsel rib in open turns (five is always good, but Håkan also likes to say that there are no rules).
Instead of heron, Håkan uses the easy-to-get saddle feather from a ring neck pheasant.
Tie it in at the head and wind back in open turns. Make sure in ends by the tail, where you catch it with the oval gold rib.
Tie in the oval rib at the head and stroke down the fibres to make room for the wing.
Tie in the golden pheasant hackle and wind on two turns before tying off and snipping the waste.
First tie in an underwing. You don’t need your best mallard for this, and it doesn’t have to be perfect at all. It’s there to support the “real” wing. Make sure it’s a little shorter. Note one very important detail here. The wing must be tied on over the wound throat hackle. Mallard is soft and if it’s tied up against the throat hackle, you’ll never be able to keep it low.
With the under wing to support the overwing, it’s much easier to set it right. Don’t try to compress it like you would a normal feather wing. Rather try and get it to fold around the upper part of the head. If you’re struggling, tie in one side at a time.
Fly done!

Håkan decribes in great detail how he ties the fly in this video:

Believe it or not, another way to help yourself a little is to tie on a down eye hook to begin with. The mallard is tricky and if the hook is an up eye, the eye tends to meddle with the root ends of the mallard, which a down eye doesn’t. Even a blind eye hook is easier to learn on.

Have fun tying!