I was recently going through a box of flies dating from the turn of the last century. I was a little surprised that these flies -- some of them still in packaging from professional trade houses -- were not the perfect ties one might come to expect from "professional" fly tiers. It reminded me of a passage I once read from Forty-Fiver Years of Sport by James Henry Corballis (1891). Corballis was a Victorian sportsman of the first order, and a dedicated salmon angler. He wrote in his section on salmon fishing:
Although in many good fishing districts it is quite possible to purchase flies, they are often but indifferently constructed, and I would therefore advise any of my readers who may contemplate making a fishing trip to be careful to obtain a good supply of the standard flies from some good maker. Of course, there are some local men whom no maker can excel in work, whether in London or elsewhere, but such cases are few and far between.
I remember once asking a professional fly-tyer and fisherman why he tied his hackles on so badly. Being an Irishman, he was not at a loss for a ready reply. 'Sure, yer honour, if a fly kills one fish, it ought to do; there would be no trade at all if it killed two fish.' If the honesty of the speaker was doubtful, he without doubt expressed himself honestly, and although his flies were of a very killing order I declined to purchase any; but I tied some flies for myself from his patterns, and found them more killing than any others I possessed, even out of a large collection.
As I looked at the rather loose construction of some of these professional ties -- unfished for certain but also designed, it seems, to fall apart in the fish's mouth -- I couldn't help but smile.
I guess "planned obsolescence" isn't such a new idea after all…
-- Dr. Todd