Written by Andrew Herd, September 16, 2016. Published with permission.
In the late 1840s, Blacker and Edward Fitzgibbon launched themselves into specimen hunting for wild trout in what today seems to be the most unlikely of all locations for big browns—the river Thames. Fitzgibbon (aka Ephemera) had championed fishing for the huge trout that were to be caught near the weirs, but these were rarely caught on the fly. Trout up to 10lbs were being taken on worm, minnow and live bait, but it was very rare for hunting trout to be caught on the fly. Fitzgibbon never lost faith in the idea that it could be done, and so Blacker set out to design some lures for that specific purpose.
Note that Blacker specced the lures, and not Fitzgibbon, who, as far as we know, never created new patterns of his own, for a very good reason, which will be revealed in the book. The fabulously creative Blacker (don’t forget that he designed the first emerger and proceeded to catch salmon on the surface with it), set about the job with a will… bad pun, sorry… and he came up with four flies, of which this is probably the most spectacular. In early 1848 the pair went fishing together and Blacker proceeded to catch a big trout on one of the patterns he had designed.
In all we know of about a dozen Thames trout flies that Blacker sold, four of which were out and out lures— the fly in the picture above is his Thames Trout Fly No. 4, tied by Alberto Calzolari. At first glance, it is a signature Blacker fly, with a superb colour theme that was very much one of his hallmarks, but if you look closer, you will see something else. We highlight this many times in the book, but it was very rare for Blacker to use matched quills for anything but back to back whole feathers—all of his sprigging was done with fibres stripped from a single quill, with the result that the tips point up on one side of a pattern and down on the other. This gives the flies a romantic appeal that is largely lost in the prim creations of the late Victorians and we think is is a huge part of the appeal of early nineteenth century salmon flies; you really get to let your hair down when you tie them.
Needless to say, this is one of the earliest trout lures ever designed, so it is a real privilege to be able to show it again after all these years.
About the William Blacker Project.
This three volume trilogy is in the final stages of editing and will be published by the Medlar Press in 2016. The first volume will cover William Blacker’s life and times, the second will introduce the many different versions of Blacker’s 1842 and 1843 editions, and the third volume will list every pattern listed by or associated with William Blacker prior to 1855. All volumes will be in full colour and we promise to deliver a standard which will not so much raise the bar, but kick it out of sight.
You can read more about William Blacker on his Facebook page: