Headley’s Alexandra (Variant)

The Alexandra has the honour of being one of the most infamous flies in the history of fly fishing, reputedly being so successful in the late 19th and early 20th century that was allegedly banned from some waters. It is, however, a simple attractor pattern and this variant is one devised by Stan Headley, introducing a little red Krystal flash in place of the red Goose quill used as an Ibis substitute for the traditional dressing.

Hook: Ahrex FW580 #8
Tail: Red hen fibres
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Silver tinsel
Hackle: Black hen
Wing: Peacock herl over red crystal flash
Thread: Danville 6/0 black
Princess Alexandra of Denmark – Royal Collection (Public domain)

Alfred Courtney Williams [1] writes that the fly was originally known as “Lady of the Lake”, coming into use around 1860, and that it had been renamed in honour of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria. He attributes the pattern to W. G. Turle or to Dr John Brunton, creator of Brunton’s Fancy. However, as Andrew Herd notes [2], the success of the fly seems to have led to several competing claims over its invention, including A. E. Hobbs of Trout of the Thames fame and even George Kelson, though he waited until 1908 before claiming that he and his father had invented the fly. The controversy over who might have originated the fly had receded by the time Courtney Williams was writing in 1949 and the classic pattern itself had been standardised. However, to this day, what makes the Alexandra or a variant of it unusual, aside from its infamous history, is that it uses peacock herl for the wings. While peacock herl is a relatively common material in fly tying, and has been for hundreds of years, it is extremely delicate and is normally restricted to use as a body material and very rarely used for wings.

It is perhaps not surprising that some of the strongest opposition to the pattern came from the dry fly purists of the English chalkstreams. It seems to have particularly angered Frederic Halford [3] who took a dim view of anglers who used the fly:

Some anglers, especially the selfish ones, are in the habit of using a huge bunch of peacock herl for wings over a silver body, called the ‘Alexandra’. What  a profanation to bestow on this monstrosity the name of one of the most charming and amiable princesses of this century! It certainly is not the imitation of any indigenous insect known to entomologists; possibly the bright silver body moving through the river gives some idea of the gleam of a minnow. Long ere this its use should have been prohibited in every stream frequented by the bona fide fly-fisherman, as it is a dreadful scourge to any water, scratching and frightening an immense proportion of the trout which are tempted to follow it. It certainly would have been prohibited, too, but for the fact that experience shows that in any stream in which it has been much fished the trout soon become quite alive to its danger, and not only will not move an inch towards it, but when worked close to their noses will not so much as turn at it, but at times, on the contrary, even fly in terror from the dread apparition.

The Alexandra from Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and their histories, 1892

The Alexandra’s reputation quickly crossed the Atlantic. Writing in Favorite Flies and Their Histories [4], published in 1892 and documenting many of the wet flies used in North America at the time, Mary Orvis Marbury noted that it was used for trout in deep, dark waters, or for black bass, for either of which it seems to have been effective. Marbury attributed the invention of The Alexandra to Dr Hobbs, though also notes that it was originally named ‘Lady of the Lake’ prior to its regal renaming. Marbury considered that The Alexandra…

…may not properly be called an artificial fly, being intended as a vague imitation of a minnow, and was originally recommended to be cast and played minnow fashion just below the surface of the water. This pattern was invented by Dr. Hobbs a number of years ago, and it came in to great favor with English fishermen; indeed, it was believed to be so taking that its use was forbidden on some streams.

The Alexandra was obviously hot stuff.


  1. Courtney-Williams, Alfred. 1973. A Dictionary of Trout Flies and of Flies for Sea-Trout and Grayling. 5th ed. London: Adam and Charles Black.
  2. Herd, Andrew. 2016. “The Alexandra.” Retrieved March 10, 2019 (www.fishingmuseum.org.uk/alexandra).
  3. Halford, Frederic. 1994. Dry Fly Fishing – In Theory and in Practice. London: H. F. and G. Witherby Ltd.
  4. Marbury, Mary Orvis. 1892. Favourite Flies and Their Histories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co.

Hot-orange Muddler


Given that the original Muddler Minnow pattern devised by Minnesota angler Don Gapen back in the 1930s to tempt the big brook trout of Ontario’s Nipigon River has its own wikipedia page, it’s not really surprising that there are so many variants. Paul Schullery [1] writes that the fly is thought to have been a modification of patterns used by native Americans and J. Edson Leonard [2] writing in 1950 remarks that:

Records, although very incomplete, show convincingly that North Carolina Indians had been making deer-hair flies long before the civil war.

Schullery also notes that the pattern gained such legendary status with North American fly fishers that it was the subject of satire in 1971:

The Flyfisher published a delightful historical parody about a mysterious Ludwig Moedler, said to have originated the fly in the 1800s.

It’s a pattern that has endured for so long because it’s successful, and more than a few anglers would place muddlers at the top of their list of most effective flies in almost any conditions. This is an adaptation of Rob Denson’s Redneck Muddler pattern, using hot orange rather than claret but keeping the ‘mirage’ body. There are limitless material and colour variations, however the essence of a Muddler pattern is the spun deer hair head and no true muddler would be complete without it. The more densely spun and tightly clipped the deer hair, the more buoyant the Muddler, and the more water it displaces when pulled below the surface as a lure.

Despite being invented in the 1930s, it seems to have been some time before the fly acquired a reputation in the UK. Tom Stewart [2] mentions that it had been used on the River Tweed by an American angler, residing in Edinburgh. However, it seems to have been on reservoirs and lakes that the pattern had its greatest success in the UK, John Veniard [3] writing in 1970 remarks

The American fly known as the “Muddler Minnow” achieved a remarkable list of successes in this country during the latter part of the 1967 season.

Hook: Hayabusa 761 #10
Tail: Orange hen
Rib: Gold wire
Body: UTC Mirage Opal
Body hackle: Grizzly hen dyed orange
Shoulder hackle: Orange hen
Head: Deer hair
Thread: Danville 6/0 black

He notes that the use of deer hair was an old-established North American custom describing the method of creating a spun head as unusual and that the adaptation of hair as a body material called for what was then a little-known tying technique in the UK.

Muddlers can be fished in a number of ways on stillwaters. This particular pattern is an obvious top dropper fly for a bright day.

  1. Shullery, Paul. American Fly Fishing – A History. New York: The Lyons Press, 1987.
  2. Leonard, J. Edson. 1950. Flies. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company.
  3. Stewart, Tom. 200 Popular Flies. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1979.
  4. Veniard, John. Reservoir and Lake Flies. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1970.

Doobry/Wickhams Variant


The Doobry is a fly that is a cross between two classic loch-style wet flies: The Zulu and The Dunkeld. Writing in Trout and Salmon Flies of Scotland [1] its originator, Stan Headley, notes that while the original Doobry was created for a specific purpose on a specific loch, it didn’t really work that well as originally conceived. However, it has become a modern standard on both lochs and reservoirs throughout the UK serving as a general purpose loch-style pattern. This variant has more in  common to the colours of the classic Dunkeld (brown, orange and gold), with none of the black of the Zulu and might equally as well be referred to as a Wickhams variant, as it shares the classic combination of brown and gold of that pattern. For some reason, I’ve never tied or fished the Doobry, so have tied up a few of both the classic and this variant for 2019.

Doobry Variant (Stan Headley)
Hook: Tiemco 3769 #10-12
Tail: Globrite yarn #6
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Gold tinsel
Body hackle: Brown rooster
Collar hackles: Brown hen over fluorescent orange rooster
Thread: Danville 6/0 black

The Doobry

The original Doobry uses a slightly different dressing than the one shown below, which substitutes globrite #4 for the tail, as opposed to red wool.

Doobry (Stan Headley)
Hook: Tiemco 3769 #10-12
Tail: Globrite yarn #4
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Gold tinsel
Body hackle: Black rooster
Collar hackles: Black hen over fluorescent orange rooster
Thread: Danville 6/0 black
  1. Stan Headley, Trout and Salmon Flies of Scotland (Ludlow: Merlin Unwin, 1997)

Peter Ross – The Barber of Killin

Hook: Hayabusa 761BN #12
Tail: Golden pheasant tippet
Rib: Silver wire (note: original pattern used oval silver tinsel)
Body: Rear silver tinsel, front red seal’s fur
Hackle: Black hen
Wing: Teal
Thread: Danville 6/0 black

Peter Ross
Peter Ross [4]
One of the classic loch flies named after its originator, Peter Ross (1873-1923), who owned a shop in Killin, Perthshire. According to a history of the village he was the local barber [1]. It’s a fly that has proven to be a long-lasting pattern and has given rise to several modern variants. The original has a reputation as both a loch fly and a pattern for sea trout. Early dressings tend to use red wool rather than the seal’s fur used here.

History, it seems, is somewhat unclear as to whether Peter Ross actually tied the fly himself or merely suggested it. Alfred Courtney Williams, writing in 1949 [2], suggests that Ross did not tie his own flies though acknowledges that he was nonetheless responsible for suggesting this variant on the Teal and Red. Similarly, Bruce Sandison [3] writes:

Another butcher, Peter Ross of Killin, Perthshire, gave his name to a successful brown trout and sea-trout pattern. Ross was not an angler, he simply enjoyed tying flies.

However, an article in the Killin News [4] from 1996 describes how Peter Ross, in his capacity as a tackle dealer:

…was a skilled fly-tier. He sent flies all over the world and his fame was such that many a visiting angler bought flies so that he could say ‘tied by Peter Ross himself’. His variant of the Teal-and- Red, now known as the ‘Peter Ross’, was so successful that he had to take legal advice to protect the name.

The article, which cites a former angling companion of Peter Ross and his nephew and which includes a photograph of Ross complete with rod and fish, suggests that Ross was indeed an angler and that he may well have tied this famous fly himself.

IG190205-223813Teal feathers are not the easiest of materials to work with when it comes to constructing a winged-wet fly. They can also vary quite a bit, as this version with a darker wing shows. The ‘perfect’ fly for framing would have all the bars neatly lined up in the wing! For smaller flies it’s feasible to take matching pairs from a Teal flank feather, for larger, seems easier to take a flank feather, fold it in half, and tie it on.


  1. Ella Walker “A village history – Killin”. Killin.info, 19 Feb. 2014, www.killin.info/blogs/village-history-killin (accessed February 2nd 2019).
  2. Alfred Courtney-Williams, A dictionary of trout flies and of flies for sea-trout and grayling (London: A&C Black, 1949, 5th ed, 1973).
  3. Bruce Sandison Lies, dammed lies and anglers (Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing, 2011).
  4. Killin News Issue No 30, Jan. 31 1996 www.killinnews.co.uk/issues/issue030.pdf (accessed February 2nd 2019).


Black and Red Hairwing

Black and Red Hairwing

Hook: Tiemco TMC 9300 #10-12
Tail: Golden Pheasant tippet
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Rear red, front black, seals fur
Body hackle: Furnace hen
Wing: Fox squirrel
Hackle: Furnace hen
Thread: Danville 6/0 black

A pattern inspired by Rob Denson’s Red Arrow cruncher. Tied on a slightly lighter hook and with the hairwing for some added buoyancy. Not actually planned any trips as yet to lochs or loughs, but have the feeling this is a pattern well suited as a bob fly for bid browns.

Grizzly Olive Snatcher

Grizzly Olive Snatcher

Hook: Tiemco TMC2487 #12
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Olive seals fur
Body hackle: Grizzly olive rooster
Shoulder hackle: Grizzly olive hen
Cheeks: Chartreuse turkey biots
Thread: Danville 6/0 olive

Snatchers have become such a routine fly to tie that it seems almost mundane to post another one. On the other hand, they don’t half catch fish.