Dr Bell’s Grenadier

IG190219-213120Dr Howard Alexander Bell (1888-1974) of Wrington, Somerset, is generally regarded as one of the pioneers of reservoir fly-fishing in the UK and someone who left an indelible mark on the development of modern stillwater trout fishing.  He fished Blagdon Lake in Somerset regularly for over 40 years, at the same time studying its aquatic invertebrate life closely and tying flies to imitate. While reservoir trout fishing began around the 1870s, initially mainly bait fishing, early fly fishing on reservoirs tended to use attractor patterns or salmon flies. Conrad Voss Bark, in his History of fly fishing [1], says of Dr Bell:

Dr Bell of Blagdon had the greatest formative influence of any man on the development of reservoir fishing in the first half of this century.

Adrian Freer’s excellent website recording the life and legacy of this pioneer of modern reservoir fly fishing [2] reveals that he was a private man who looked to his time spent fishing on Blagdon Lake for its quiet and solitude. However, he developed a meticulous, scientific approach to the study of his catch, regularly examining the trout he caught for evidence of what they had been eating. As a result, he realised that, by imitating insects that the trout of his beloved Blagdon expected to see and eat, and by presenting them in a manner that mimicked their progression through the water he had developed a significantly better approach to catching trout.

Dr Bell’s Blagdon Buzzer

He was responsible for the design of several fly patterns that were significant innovations at the time, representing the advent of modern imitative reservoir flies. Amongst them The Grenadier, the Blagdon Buzzer nymph and the Amber nymph. His buzzer pattern is the forefather of countless modern buzzer imitations that fill the rows of the reservoir angler’s fly box. Ironically, when it comes to The Grenadier it is less clear what he was seeking to imitate, not helped by Bell’s lack of published material. In Nymph Fishing – A history of the art and practice [3], Terry Lawton writes of Dr Bell:

He hated and never sought publicity and was reputed never to have written anything about fly fishing although notes for an unpublished article, dated 1941, were published in The Buzzer in 2003.

Tom Stewart [4] mentions an earlier article in The Fishing Gazette of 1958 by Colonel Esmond Drury that seems to have brought Dr Bell’s patterns to a wider audience and gave the particulars of the Grenadier as using hot orange seals fur or floss of a similar colour for the body.

Hook: Tiemco 3769 #10-14
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Seal’s fur, dyed orange
Hackle: Ginger cock
Thread: Danville 6/0 brown

Today, it is more common to tie The Grenadier with a palmered body hackle and short tail.

Grenadier Special
Hook: Tiemco TMC 3769 #10-14
Tail: Globrite #7
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Seal’s fur, dyed orange
Hackle: Ginger cock, palmered
Thread: Danville 6/0 brown

Adrian Freer’s website, link below, is an excellent and long overdue recording of the life and legacy of this pioneer of modern reservoir fly fishing.

  1. Conrad Voss Bark A history of fly fishing (Ludlow: Merlin Unwin Books, 1992)
  2. Adrian Freer ‘Dr Bell of Wrington’ webdatauk.wixsite.com/dr-bell (Accessed February 23, 2019)
  3. Terry Lawton Nymph fishing – a history of the art and practice (Shrewsbury: Swan Hill Press, 2005)
  4. Tom Stewart, 200 popular flies and how to tie them(London: A&C Black, 1979)

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