Cast From The Past: William Blacker’s Last Fly

Photo Credit: Dave Watson

This beautiful and rare salmon fly is purported to be the last fly tied by William Blacker, who is considered to be one of the greatest fly tiers of all time. Blacker was born in Ireland in 1815 and operated a tackle shop at 54 Dean Street in London. He brought with him the Irish style of fly tying to England in the 1830s, revolutionizing the salmon tying world forever.

The Irish style of fly tying benefited from early access to the most beautiful exotic materials from bird skins shipped into Ireland for the millinery trade for the production of fine women’s hats and apparel.

Blacker’s contribution to the design of salmon flies during the Victorian era was astonishing—he worked tirelessly to tie new patterns and personally doubled the number of salmon fly patterns in England after his arrival in London.

Blacker published three main editions of his now highly collectible book “The Art of Fly-Making, Angling and Dyeing of Colors” which contained live examples of his masterful files. From a small 38-page edition in 1842, he expanded in 1842 to 130 pages and over 100 patterns, until his final edition in 1855, which ran 252 pages with hundreds of flies.

He was a master of self-promotion and initially traveled all over Scotland to sell his salmon flies and establish his reputation among the elite salmon flyfishers. He was also the originator of the emerger pattern of the trout fly.

Blacker’s life work, including all of the main editions of his book and the flies that appeared in them, are now better known due to the publication of Andrew Herd’s masterful “Blacker Trilogy” in 2017. The rarest of Blacker’s books sold at auction for $293,733 in 2021 at Bonhams in London.

As Herd once said in a recent interview: The Irish style of salmon fly tying made famous by Blacker, Martin Kelly, and others resulted in stunning salmon flies that “Were tied to catch a bigger quarry than the salmon.”

Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.

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