By: Darrel Martin
Photography by: Darrel Martin
Cholo, my companion and knowledgeable fishing guide, called me for lunch. Might as well, since the Órbigo river ran low and we’d found only a few taciturn trout. Over cheese, nuts, fruit and wine, we spoke of fly patterns and the past. Several years ago, I had fished southern Spain, but now I was in Northern Spain, León’s ancient heart of fly- fishing. World-class rivers—including the Esla, the Porma, the Curueño, the Torio and the Órbigo—flowed not far from León.
José Manuel Ruiz Pérez, known by his friends as Cholo, comes from generations of artisans. One grandfather was a textile artisan; the other, a cabinet-maker whose work appears in the Royal Palace. His father—who worked in watercolor, oils, textiles and ceramics—was part of the movie-set team for several major films, including 55 Days in Peking and Cleopatra. Both Cholo and his wife Maribel produce a wide range of fishing flies, patterns that have participated in the Fly-Fishing World Championships for the past three years.
After the lunchtime wine, Cholo showed me a simple and graceful pattern, a traditional Spanish wet fly with gallo de León wings. Once, a Spanish feather merchant took me to task (and rightly so) for calling these ancient feathers “coq de León.” The latter is a French phrase, apparently propagated when the French first marketed the Spanish spade feathers. These fabled feathers of León deserve their Spanish name.
Described in the Manuscrito de Astorga (1624), they are the oldest genetic feathers bred for fly-tying. I admire the sparkling and speckled, richly colored Pardos (the reddish browns), especially the flor de escoba (broom bush), the corzuno (roebuck) and the aconchado (conch shell).
The original Spanish wet had a silk body, silk ribbing and a gallo de León barb wing. Early patterns were probably tied only with fine silk floss. No tying thread was used.
Yet, even with a silk body and ribbing, tying thread allows me to reduce bulk for a more delicate pattern. Modern variations of the Spanish wet often use synthetic yarns and threads for the body and ribbing. But true to tradition, stripped gallo de León barbs still form the wing.
Today, teams of Spanish wets are thrown with spinning rods and bubble floats. This design is as good as it was nearly four centuries ago: the antique wet fly is simple and modern and you can fish it anywhere. Although the historic tying process lacks detail and modern tiers differ in techniques, a general tying sequence follows:
Thread: 6/0 black or to match body color
Body/Ribbing: Modern patterns often use various synthetic yarns and threads. For traditional patterns, Alec Jackson of Seattle markets Premium Silk Floss and Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk threads in various colors. The pattern seen here is tied with Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk thread.
Wings: Gallo de León spade feather barbs
Thread: Black Uni-thread, size 8/0
Body and Eyes: Closed-cell foam Antenna and
Legs: Black monofilament
Wings: Medium dun hackle tips
Hackle: Yellow-dyed grizzly hackle
Paint: Water-resistant lacquer and epoxy
Fruit attracts wasps. But it was not my orange at lunch that lured this one. Before finishing lunch, Cholo revealed a personal pattern, his Yellow Wasp.
As a talented and creative tier, his close observations and fine detail create remarkably precise insects. Like rare and natural insects, his patterns are often mounted and displayed by worldwide collectors. A lick of a fine brush adds the proper insect body markings and colors. Hot pliers bend legs and antennae. Though perhaps more akin to model-building than fly-tying, his patterns have captured collectors, as well as some admirable trout. Nevertheless, I have always had the hazy notion that fishing highly realistic patterns usually requires greater angling skill.
No matter, I do know that there is pleasure in seeing such tying detail and talent. His signature pattern, the Yellow Wasp (Avispa), is one of Cholo’s “Virtuals,” his realistic foam flies. Although some materials and methods are proprietary, Cholo shares his Yellow Wasp with us here.
Cholo’s knowledge and skill produce small Spanish treasures. At times, his craftsmanship is startling. When the English Treatyse (1496) listed pattern materials only, the Spanish Dialogo (1539) and the Manuscrito de Astorga (1624) gave us the earliest known fly-tying directions. They also introduced us to the legendary gallo de León feathers. Spain has a long and rich fly-tying history, a history that continues with consummate tiers like Cholo.
Before we returned to the water that afternoon in Northern Spain, Cholo flavored the remains of our lunch with his guitar, a soft flamenco strum that matched the flowing water.
- Digger Wasp (Sceliphron destillatorium)
- Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi)
- Caddis Larva (Rhyacophilidae sp.)
- European Hornet (Vespa crabro)
- Orb-Weaver Spider (Argiope sp.)
- Ladybug (Coccinellidae sp.)
- Crane Fly (Tipula maxima)
- Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)
Alec Jackson, P.O. Box 82386, Kenmore, WA 98028