Fly of the Month – Watson’s Fancy

Pattern, Photograph and Notes by Arthur Greenwood

This pattern originated in Scotland, first tied by one Donald Watson of Inverness. It is not known what Mr Watson was attempting to imitate but what we do know is that it works!

WatsonsFancyFly Like many successful flies, it migrated and was adopted by Irish fly-dressers in the late 19th century. The Irish school of fly-dressing, both then and now, prefers a rough bodied wet fly; one which, when held to the light, has a kind of ‘halo’ effect around it. Originally tied with a floss silk body, the Irish substituted seal’s fur which when picked out or scrubbed produces the desired translucency. Seal’s fur is still available and widely used in Ireland and the UK but modern US substitutes for seal’s fur are acceptable and don’t lessen this pattern’s effectiveness. Jungle cock is difficult to source but definitely adds to the catch rate.

The Irish recipe for the Watson’s Fancy is:

Hook: size 8 – 14 Kamasan B170 or 175 (equivalents include Daiichi 1550, Mustad 3906, TMC: 3769)

Tying thread: black

Rib: fine oval silver tinsel

Tail: golden pheasant topping

Body: rear half, red seal’s fur; front half, black seal’s fur

Hackle: black cock

Wing: slips of crow primary (any black wing feather is OK)

Eyes: Jungle Cock (optional)

The pattern is not unknown in North America, and it appears as an immigrant in Ray Bergman’s book ‘Trout”. It’s interesting to observe how the fly ‘mutated’ in two different directions, one in USA and the other in Ireland. Bergman’s version has a smooth, floss body and a longer pheasant quill tail.

In Ireland, we are fortunate to have some large lakes (or loughs, as we call them) in the middle and on the western fringe of our country. These lie on a bedrock of limestone and thus are rich in feeding for our native brown trout. These lakes are connected to the Atlantic Ocean and some also receive runs of salmon and seatrout (sea-run browns). When fishing these lakes from a drifting boat, the Watson’s Fancy is fished as one of a team of three on a leader of 15 feet. Two flies are attached by means of droppers of 4-6 inches and the tail fly (often the Watson’s) tied directly to the end of the leader. Rods are usually 10 – 11 feet and 6/7 weight, lines are floating, often double-tapered. The flies are cast a short distance in front of the drifting boat and retrieved slowly, ‘working’ the top dropper in the surface film, which creates a lot of interest from the fish.

The Watson’s also works well in our rivers, particularly for seatrout, which run up from the ocean towards evening when conditions are favourable. We fly fish for these shy creatures at night when they lose some of their caution and the technique is usually a single fly (the Watson’s is my preferred choice, in a size 8) on a 9-foot leader, swung across and down the river pools. It is a very exciting method and the darkness adds to the excitement.

I know from my regular visits to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that the Watson’s Fancy catches fish in the USA. I had some nice rainbows from Georgetown Lake on this pattern and my guess is that they took it as some kind of small baitfish. I’ve also caught cutthroats on this fly from small creeks in Alberta and once I had a bull trout up there attack it! I hope you’ll have a try at tying it and that it works as well for you as it does for me.

More flies by Arthur are at

(March 2012 newsletter)

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