A Fly For All Seasons


Tying the Red Tag

By John L. Torchick

August 2020

Fly tying has been around for a long time. Claudius Aelianus, third century AD, described a Macedonian method of fishing- “They do not use (natural) flies for bait, for if a man’s hand touch them they lose their natural color, their wings wither, and they become unfit food for the fish. (Instead) they fasten crimson wool around a hook, and fix on the wool two feathers that grow under a cock’s wattle, and which in color are like wax.”

The Brown Hackle Peacock, as it is known locally, is also called the Red Tag in many fly tying books and references for fly fishing. The Red Tag fly is attributed to Martyn Flynn from Worcestershire, England.  Designed in the 1850s for trout and grayling, it proved successful in England’s North Country rivers. Originally called the Worcestershire Gem and the Worcestershire Wonder, the name was shortened to the Red Tag, referring to the red wool tail. References here will be the Brown Hackle Peacock or BHP for brevity’s sake and my aging fingers.

The author at the vise tying a Red Tag.

Friend and mentor Don Denney shared the history of the BHP in Southeast Tennessee. He discovered the fly pattern in a library while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. Two fly tying and fly fishing icons, Vernon Hidy and James Leisenring, were mentioned in books and proved to be very influential for his future in fly fishing and fly tying. He adopted the fly after moving back to Tennessee. A storm in 1994 buried his favorite trout stream, Goforth Creek, under a tangle of timber. Searching for another place, he discovered the Hiwassee River. It was about 1994 when Don shared this fly pattern and recipe with me. He declares any fly box needs a good supply of BHP flies, sizes 12 to 16, to be considered complete.       

Originally tied as a dry fly, local use is as a wet fly. The BHP has proven to be successful all year. If trout are feeding, they will take the BHP. It has been described as looking like nothing, but imitating everything. Personal experience has shown that the fly will produce fish when nothing else will. It has been so effective at times you have to hide behind a tree to tie one on your tippet!

Fishing the BHP is easy and doesn’t require fancy casting techniques. This is a technique I use on the Hiwassee River, which is a top tailwater fishery. Cast it downstream, stopping the rod in the 12 o’clock position on the forward cast. Let the line land on the water with slack. Drift the fly with the current by lowering the rod until the tip is just above the water. Hold the fly for a few seconds and retrieve it with short pulls of the line. Many times, a trout will strike the stationary fly, or just as it starts to move. One can cast the rod at an angle, right or left, to cover more water without moving.

A useful variation is the Grey Hackle Peacock, mixing grey and brown hackle for greater visibility in low light conditions. Don fishes the Grey Hackle Peacock as a dry fly to imitate any fair size mayfly, Isonychia or Hendrickson. A dab of floatant keeps it on the surface to evoke a strike.

English anglers tie a variation known as the Red Palmer. The fly is tied in the regular fashion, but brown hackle is wound, or palmered, from back to front the entire length of the fly. This is fished as a wet fly, looking like a woolly worm. One fly tying book on my shelf shows a variation with soft hackle as partridge hackle, peacock herl and no tail.

The fly is simple, consisting of four parts – a wet fly hook in sizes 12 to 16; black thread; a strand of red yarn, which lasts longer than dyed deer hair or feathers; two or three strands of peacock herl; and brown hackle. I’ve used ginger hackle in place of the brown hackle.

Photo 1- Many recommend starting with a No. 12 hook. Bigger hooks are easier to tie for beginners. With the hook secured in the vise, start wrapping the thread behind the eye, leaving room for two or three wraps of the hackle. Wrap toward the back, stopping just before the bend. Trim the excess thread. Lay a bit of red yarn on the thread overlapping the end of the thread. A soft loop keeps the material as yarn, hair, etc. from coming off the top of the hook. Wrap several times to secure it The length of the yarn is your choice. I like it to stand out.


Photo 2- Wrap to secure the ends of two or three strands peacock herl and wrap the peacock herl around the length of the thread. This gives the herl more durability, according to Don Denney. Wrap the thread and herl forward, keeping each wrap against the previous one.


Photo 3- Unwrap the remaining herl and wrap the thread to secure the herl to the hook. Clip the excess herl.


Photo 4- Choose the hackle that is as wide as the gape (distance) of the hook between the point and shank. Strip a few filaments from the hackle and lay the quill end on the hook and secure with three or four wraps of thread.


Photo 5- Grip the end of the hackle in hackle pliers or your fingers. Wrap away from you two or three times. Move the thread to capture the hackle and wrap several times to secure the hackle. Clip the excess hackle.


Photo 6- Tie off the thread with your whipping tool or do four or five half hitches by hand. Trim the excess thread. Apply head cement. Many fly tiers use Sally Hanson Hard as Nails. Small tubes of CA glue can be used by putting a drop on the dubbing tool and touching it to the thread. CA glue dries in seconds. Others might take a couple of minutes. A paper cup is handy to hang the flies on while drying.