American Flies in Scotland? Surely that won’t work?

Written by: Isobella Ash

Alba Game Fishing is an Orvis endorsed tour operator and fishing guiding company, based in Edinburgh. Stewart Collingswood founded Alba 16 years ago and created a company that had elements of everything he loved: fishing, photography, Scotland, beautiful locations, food, whisky, heritage, e-procurement, and tourism. Now he is living the dream and is an expert in the art of fly fishing.

Here John Hood and Stewart Collingswood have created a fantastic blog for us to share with you about an American & Scottish fly crossover. Enjoy!

It all started during Lockdown, I phoned one of our best fishing guides John for a catch up. After my third week of lockdown, housebound with my 4-year-old boy, it was great to get a conversation about fly fishing instead of the daily Vikings, Pirates and Paddington Bear dialogue!

I like talking about fishing with John, he is a superb trout angler, SGAIC guide and Orvis Fishing Specialist as well as my most trusted guide. John is also a brilliant fly tyer, and I always value his sage like advice. He told me some amazing stories of these old Bergman flies catching trout all over Scotland, and baffling anglers who were drawing blanks with modern patterns.

The last time John and I were fishing together was early March, before this COVID situation kicked off. As usual, he was catching fish when others struggled, including me. We were on a busman holiday, a fishing day for some of our best guides. “John!” I shouted over, “What the heck are you using?” he smiled and beckoned me over. I strolled around the to the other side of the lochside to see him.

Dressed head to toe in the best Orvis apparel but for the rather dapper and Scottish weathered leather cowboy hat, he stood smiling at me with a glint in his eye. Johns brand identity is not unlike a Marshall in an old Western, calm and authoritative and good-humoured. The trademark John Hood grey ponytail under the cowboy hat. All that’s missing is the cheroot and the faint distant echo of an Ennio Moriconi soundtrack. 

He held up a Ray Bergman fly and I laughed in disbelief. “This is a Luzerne he proudly announced!” I squinted at it and said, “you’re kidding right?” “No I’m not, let’s give it a try?” John cast it out and on the 3rd cast, a lively trout hammered into the fly and hooked itself. It took the fly with such gusto. A rainbow of about 3 lbs was returned safely. I didn’t think much of it until we spoke again a few weeks later and John started telling me how he had spent a lot of last season fishing these historic and classic American fly patterns on various venues throughout Scotland, and baffling everyone with his catch rates. I admitted defeat. ”Can you tie me some up?”

First Edition Trout – Ray Bergman

So who is Ray Bergman? Let me give you a brief history…

Ray Bergman wrote just four books:

– Just Fishing (1932)

– Trout (1938)

– Fresh Water Bass (1942)

– With Fly, Plug, and Bait (1947)

Trout is the only fishing book ever written to remain in print for more than 50 years. The first edition of this angling classic was reprinted 13 times. Second edition (1952) revised, enlarged, with two new chapters on spinning. The third edition of Trout was done in 1978. In the year 2000, the Derrydale Press published a fourth edition with a new forward by Gary LaFontaine. “Trout” in all its volumes and editions has sold more than 225,000 copies; a feat that will probably never be surpassed by a fishing book.

The first edition of Trout was entirely a fly fishing book.

When Trout was published, illustrations and recipes for more than 600 fly patterns; 440 of which are classic wet flies. All the colour plate paintings in Bergman’s books were painted by Dr. Edgar Burke a noted author and artist.

Ray Bergman was also the angling editor of Outdoor Life magazine from 1934 until 1959 when he retired. Born 1881, died 1967. His name and gravesite was just this past year, placed on a “Cemetery Tour” of notable people in the history of the area of Nyack, NY, the place where Bergman was born, lived, and died.

He operated a mail-order fly tackle business called “Ray Bergman’s Angling Specialties” from 1934 until he retired. He had his own line of fly tying hooks made by the Martinez Company in Redditch, England, sold as Nyack Brand, Ray Bergman Fly Tying Hooks. There were Red Label, Blue Label, Yellow Label, and others.

In summary, Bergman was one of the most important contributors to trout fishing and fly tying ever.

John Hood on Bergman and the success with the flies in Scotland

Back in 2013 I bought a book entitled The founding Flies by Mike Valla. The book covered the most influential fly tiers from the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. There are 43 tiers covered including many you might recognise; Thaddeus Norris, Edward Ringwood Hewitt, Mary Orvis Marbury, Carrie Stevens, Art Flick, Art Whinnie, Lee Wulff, Dave Whitlock, Helen Shaw and Walt & Whinnie Dette. Among this list was a name I didn’t know but I was interested in finding out a bit more about. Ray Bergman.

Bergman’s book “Trout” covered many aspects of fishing for trout but of more interest to me was the number of colour plates of wet flies and the material lists for nearly 600 of these flies. I managed to get myself a copy of “Trout”, mainly for my collection but also for the patterns within. 

Having looked at the colour plates and lists I had the idea that many of these patterns would be worth a try here in Scotland for both brown and rainbow trout. So, for the last 5-6 years, myself and some friends have been tying and fishing some of these flies with great success. These are old patterns yes but they are still very successful and worthy of a cast. They also use mainly natural materials and tying methods, something I feel, as fly tiers, we are losing touch with, now there is so much man-made material available and the strong influence of the competition scene using blobs, boobies and buzzers, not that I am against them! Everyone to their own. Please, take a look at the book and see if you can be inspired to give some of these patterns a go yourself, I’m sure you will be surprised at the results.

Bergmans Lake Green pattern

I have been tying flies for nearly 40 years now and have one or two patterns of my own creations that have been successful, for myself and others, everywhere they are used. So, I wouldn’t be arrogant in saying I know a good pattern when I see it. The Ray Bergman patterns I have picked out and used so far have been in that category.   

My first use of these flies was shortly after I received the book from the States. My good friend Fraser Renwick had invited me to fish Carron Reservoir the following Friday, and the word was that yellow hoppers fished static were doing well. I had also just received some very nice teal feathers from another friend who shoots on the Solway during the winter.

The Lake Green was the perfect combination of all these contributing factors, so I set about tying one or two, as well as some phosphor yellow hoppers, just in case! Carron was difficult that day with it being bright and very little wind. We were up at the far dam using various hoppers but not getting much action. I noticed a fish rise a few yards off and quickly stripped my floating line in to have a cast.  Just before lifting off to cast, I noticed there was a swirl at the back of the flies so I put them straight back over it and left it. Nothing. I started to lift it off again and the yellow hopper was hit hard, by a lovely brown of around 12oz. I released the fish safely and cast out a long line and started retrieving quickly, again I had a take on the hopper, a fish of similar size and feisty attitude. A quick change saw the hopper on the middle dropper now and the Lake green on the tail/point.

Suffice it to say we had a good afternoon, catching rainbows and browns on the new additions. I tie this fly with fluorescent yellow wool over black thread and use a chartreuse wire to rib it which gives it the green colour needed. I used it to great success on Carron Reservoir and Lake of Menteith for the rest of the year.

The Gordon was the next fly to get a try, being of similar body colour, it was an obvious choice, again it worked well, especially in bright conditions. Again, I was out with Fraser on Menteith, he had a club competition coming up and as always, wanted to do well. We eventually found rising fish in the gap between the peninsula and the island, but they were being picky. After trying a few casts with various dries, I decided to try a wet fly approach and switched to the Gordon on the point. Within 14-15 casts I had had 10 fish and missed one or two others. Fraser did well in his competition, not all down to this pattern but another Bergman fly was added to the box. 

A nice trout in Kates Brae Lake of Menteith

The Luzerne

I run a fly-tying class during the winter months and have a regular group attending each Tuesday evening. Just Prior to the start of the sessions I was asked to do another fly-tying demo for the Luggiebank fly dressers club, they were looking for something different, so I decided to do a range of Bergman flies and try to raise awareness of the 10 patterns I had chosen. The evening was a great success with many questions being asked about the choice and range of patterns, mostly using duck feathers. I also decided that I would use these patterns for the upcoming fly-tying class but would include some others to increase the range to 20. At the end of the class’s, usually around March we have an outing so that we can try out some of the patterns tied over the winter.

The Luzerne

Our choice of venue for this outing was Orchil Loch, up near Gleneagles. The day started very cold with a cold wind making it even colder so my choice to start was a weighted nymph on a long leader fished very slowly. Nothing on this in the first half-hour so changed to buzzers of various colours, again nothing. Back to the nymph and success, one fish in the net. While I was netting my fish I noticed young James casting along the bank to what looked like a rising fish but no take. Whilst he was stripping the cast back, he had a thumping take from good-sized fish. It was a peach of a fish, fully finned, overwintered and in perfect condition, the fly right in the scissors. I shouted over “well done young man” and turned back to my own fishing. Again, I noticed him cast to a moving fish a few minutes later and again, no interest until he started stripping the cast back. This was a bigger fish, so I went over to help. Another lovely overwintered fish around the 4lb mark, stuck in the scissors I noticed one of the Bergman flies we had tied in the class, the Luzerne. We stopped for some hot tea and a bite to eat but on return, I changed to a similar setup to James. The afternoon session I hoped would be a bit better as out of 5 of us, James and I were the only ones to catch so far.  I wasn’t disappointed, casting out short lines close to the shore was the best method, resulting in 7 more fish to my rod and another 5 more for James. 

The Luzerne caught me many fish throughout the year but one memorable day on Carron Reservoir is worthy of a mention. Carron is a beautiful 970-acre reservoir in hills halfway between Stirling and Glasgow. I had been invited out to fish with Ronnie Orr from Milngavie AC, as he had heard I was having some great success and wanted some pointers before an up and coming national heat. After arriving early, I set up my rod with the usual floating line and long leader, 2 droppers and a tail fly. I had tied a few Luzerne up using some wine floss and some with a light claret wool, wanting to see how well each did and if the slight variation in colour made a difference. Ronnie set up with a Di5 line and some mini lures that have been successful for him in the past. We had been told that the usual hot spots in the bays had been hammered recently and there was not a lot to be had so we decided to try along the road shore, from top to bottom. It turned out to be a very good day for me, despite it being bright and breezy. We had 41 fish to the boat, rainbows and measurable browns, 36 to my rod and 5 to Ronnie. All my fish came to the Luzerne, wherever it was on the cast. The Claret wool body being slightly better than the wine floss.

To date, I and a few chosen others, have had great success experimenting with and adapting this range of flies for our waters. I would like to see many others using them and having the fun and success we have had. So, if you’re interested and want some further information, give us a call or drop us a message, here to help. The range, tied during the 2019/2020 winter class’s now includes; Lake Green, The Gordon, Luzerne, Gold Stork, Mallard, Brown Mallard, The Cahill, The Grizzly King, Yellow Drake, Carter Harrison, Chateaugay, Heckham Green, King of the Water, Red Ash, Catskill, Big Meadow, Down Looker, The Deacon, Black Dose and the Winters.    

Written by John Hood and Stewart Collingswood – Alba Game Fishing

4 thoughts on “American Flies in Scotland? Surely that won’t work?

  1. Ben Steer

    Very interesting post. I’m new to fly fishing; this is my third season and one of the first books I bought was ray Bergman’s trout. It very quickly became my bible and because my beginning has been in the old American tradition rather than British 95% of my fly fishing has been with techniques and flies straight out of this book. Very successful on the wild trout of my local rivers- water of leith and almond. Would love to talk further about this.
    Best wishes

    1. John Hood

      Hi Ben, I would be happy to discuss this further with you. You can contact me at the Orvis store in Edinburgh. Regards. John.

    1. John Hood

      Hi Len, due to the Covid situation and replacement knee surgery I wont be running the classes at Lochore Meadows until very late in the year. Please keep in touch though.
      Regards. John.


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