Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Hippurus - Old & New

One of the many aspects of fly fishing that make this sport so dear to me is its long and distinguished history.

Thus I have read with great respect the description by Claudius Ælianus of the curious style of fishing used by rural Macedonians in the area between Thessalonica and Berea, written around AD 200 (not so many years after Messrs. Paul and Silas got chased through the same area, as described in another influential book).

The description Ælian gives for the style used is brief, but easily recognizable as a fly fishing:
They wrap the hook in scarlet wool, and to the wool they attach two feathers that grow beneath a cock's wattles and are the colour of wax. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the colour, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.
This article I quote from a most interesting site by Dr. Andrew Herd, A Fly Fishing History. Both this site and a more elaborate book by Dr. Herd on the subject are well worth a read.

What I found the most interesting is the resemblance between the ancient Hippurus fly and a modern pattern that has no formal name I know of, but which has worked out for me suprisingly well over the last couple grayling seasons.

Some ancient materials are replaced by modern subsititutes - red wool by red tinsel, and rooster hackle tips by CDC feather - and the whole thing is scaled down to size #18; having said this the overall concept of the fly remains the same. And it continues to appeal greatly to the wily fish with speckled skins...


  1. Courtney Williams reckoned that the wattles were wrapped with the wool, giving us the Red Hackle, a very effective fly indeed...


    1. I admit that my Greek is a bit rusty nowadays and I had to rely on an English translation of the text (by the way the book is available on Amazon in Kindle format for some $10, and makes a fun reading). It is possible some information was lost in translation.

      But having said that I am afraid to read too much into Aelian's one sentence description. He was not a fisherman, he never travelled to Macedonia and relied on second or third hand information. The book from which the text comes is a curious mix of yarns and stories, put together for entertainment and none of them meant seriously.

      I thought it best to make the hackle feathers stand out as fly wings, because Aelian specificly writes that two were used. But it is entirely possible the hackles were wrapped around the body, making a Red Hackle / Soldier Palmer instead.