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Greenwell’s Glory, Tweed Style

Greenwell's Glory, Tweed Style

Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”

by Rusty Dunn

A time-honored Scottish proverb states, “There are two things a Highlander likes naked, and one of them is malt whisky“.  If that Highlander be a fly fisher, the other naked delight is a trout fly. 

Scottish flies reflect the char­ac­ter of the country … austere, frugal, and mod­est.  The designs are humble yet graceful.  Their short slen­der bodies, tiny slips of wing, and hint of hackle are tied from nature’s pal­ette of silk, fur and feather.  Scottish flies may contain few ma­te­ri­als, but they hold cen­turies of streamside ob­ser­va­tion and skill at the tying bench.  G.E.M. Skues de­scribed the Scottish approach:

The artificial fly is a sketch.  The slight shred of wing, the slim body, the slight but active hackle.  I have known Scottish burn fishers fill bumping creels with just such simple patterns.

The most famous of all Scottish trout flies is a Green­well’s Glory.  Indeed, it may be the most widely known artifi­cial fly of all time.  The Greenwell’s Glory is a winged wet fly whose global popularity from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s placed it in almost every angler’s fly box.  It even drew attention from non-anglers.  Peo­ple all over the world, including those who had never han­dled a fly rod and wouldn’t know a mayfly from a may­pole, recog­nized a Greenwell’s Glory by name as something with which to catch trout.

Angling authors have struggled for centuries to under­stand why winged wet flies appeal to trout.  Their paired feather slips arched over the back imitate the fully elon­gated wings of adult insects.  Winged wets, how­ever, are fished underwater with lots of cross-cur­rent move­ment.  Why on earth would winged adult in­sects be swim­ming underwater?  Several plausible, alt­hough not entirely compel­ling, ex­pla­na­tions for this seeming con­tradiction have been pro­posed.  Perhaps winged wets imitate drowned adult naturals whose emergence at the surface failed to complete.  But would a drowned adult swim so vig­orously under­water?  It seems unlikely.  Perhaps winged wets imitate emerg­ers with partially expanded wings.  Many in­sects rise to the surface dur­ing a hatch with such nascent wing buds.  Perhaps winged wets imitate small bait­fish, whose rapid move­ments provoke strikes by pred­atory trout.  Entomolo­gists have es­tablished that egg-lay­ing fe­males of many mayfly and caddisfly species swim or crawl underwater to lay eggs at the stream bot­tom.  Perhaps winged wets imi­tate the vigorous strug­gles of such females when they are swept into the cur­rents.

A Greenwell’s Glory owes its name to Canon William Greenwell of Durham, England, who was an experi­enced and frequent an­gler on Scotland’s River Tweed.  Greenwell fished the Tweed one afternoon in May, 1854 when a pale olive mayfly hatched in abundance.  Trout rose freely all day, but none of Green­well’s many flies was up to the task.  He ended the day frus­trated and fishless.  He captured one of the naturals and headed straight to James Wright, a re­nowned pro­fes­sional fly dresser who lived nearby.  Wright and Green­well together designed a fly on the spot in hopes of im­i­tating the captured may­fly.  Wright tied a dozen for Greenwell to try the next day.  Greenwell reported the result in a letter pub­lished in The Fishing Gazette:

Next day I had as fine a day’s sport as I ever re­member, and going, on my return, to James Wright, he asked me what success I had had.  I told him I had filled my creel.  ‘Why’, he said, ‘but your creel holds 32 lb’.  ‘Yes’, I said, ‘but I have got my pock­ets full as well’.

Wright and Greenwell organized an impromptu gather­ing to celebrate the remarkable success of the new fly.  The gathering included local regulars of the Tweed and gen­erous quanti­ties of Scots malt, with which the fly was ceremoniously chris­tened to great fanfare as “Green­well’s Glory”.  Word of the new pattern spread quickly due to James Wright’s reputation as a fly dresser and to his in­flu­ence among affluent British an­glers and authors, for whom the River Tweed was an elite desti­nation.  Many varia­tions of the pattern have since ap­peared, but James Wright’s River Tweed orig­inal re­mains un­matched for its combination of beauty, sim­plic­ity, and effective­ness.
Copyright 2018, Rusty Dunn

Greenwell’s Glory, Tweed Style 

Greenwell's Glory, Tweed Style

The wings of James Wright’s original dressing were set upright, but the fly shown to the right reflects the tradi­tional River Tweed style of wings slanted backwards.

Hook: Wet fly, #14
Thread: Silk, light yellow, well waxed.
Wing: Folded or matched quill slips from the under­side of a blackbird’s wing
Body: Tying silk
Ribbing: Fine gold wire
Hackle: Hen, coch-y-bonddu or furnace; length no longer than the hook point