Parmacheene Belle

The Parmacheene Belle is arguably the most famous and most-well-known of all the married wing brook trout flies. It was created by Henry P. Wells in 1876. He named it after Parmacheene Lake in the Rangeley Region of Maine. He fished it in that area and took a number of large brook trout on it. The Parmacheene Belle was first published in Fishing With the Fly, 1883, coauthored by Charles F. Orvis and Albert Nelson Cheney. It was not shown among the lithographed color plates of the Lake Flies and Trout Flies in that book, but there is a chapter written by Mr. Wells titled, Fly Fishing for Trout in the Rangeley Region. Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury, contains letters from a number of the correspondents who named the Parmacheene Belle among their favorite trout flies.

Over the years, different fly dressers, different fly companies, and different authors presented different versions of the Parmacheene Belle. This version here is identical to Mr. Wells’s specifications that he presented in his chapter of Fishing With the Fly, save for the fact that on the body, I used yellow rabbit dubbing instead of yellow mohair as called for by him in the correct dressing.

Favorite Flies and Their Histories presents a different version of the Parmacheene Belle, in that the wing of the Orvis pattern is not “white striped with scarlet” as specified by Mr. Wells, but rather is half-and-half red and white. The color plate in the Marbury book is also unclear as to the hackle. J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies, contains three errors or differences, if you prefer “fly pattern political correctness,” in the dressing for the Parmacheene Belle. His mistakes on that pattern possibly came from him trying to analyze the image of the plate fly in Marbury’s book, which can be an effort in futility. You’ll see the correct dressing for the Parmacheene Belle listed below the photo of my rendition as presented by the originator of the fly, Mr. Henry P. Wells. A friend commented recently about fly patterns on another forum, that any dressing or pattern recipe as presented by the originator should be the “correct one.” Indeed.

Leonard lists the following errors / variations on the Parmacheene Belle: “Hackle – scarlet; Body – yellow floss, palmer yellow hackle.” I believe Leonard misinterpreted the artist’s rendition of the mohair body, which in order to appear scraggly, appears as fibers protruding from between the tinsel ribbing. I have a photo of the original plate fly, and the body is yellow mohair, there is no palmered body hackle. I also posted a while back, the Parmacheene Belle from the 1893 Orvis display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing. I decided to edit this post and ad that photo here as well:

Parmacheene Belle from the 1893 orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in manchester, Vermont.

Parmacheene Belle from the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. The hook size is large, as a Lake Fly, about a number 1 or perhaps even a 1/0. I checked my photo of the actual book plate fly, there is definitely a tinsel tag on that fly, though it is tarnished. Note the spelling, that is correct, as also written on the road signs in that area of Maine. Note the reverse-tied wing; the folded butt ends of the quill sections are visible in front of the few thread wraps that lock the wing back into position.

Of course, to reiterate, as I noted above, different companies, authors, and fly tiers have modified this dressing, and of course, not intentionally over the one-hundred thirty-six years since its creation. I’m just glad that since I first tied the Parmacheene Belle in 1974, that I finally got it right.

Parmacheene Belle -

Parmacheene Belle – dressed by Don Bastian on Mustad #3906 size #4 wet fly hook, according to the recipe by the originator, Henry P. Wells. His article in Fishing With the Fly, 1883,  states that the Parmacheene Belle was created “some seven years ago.”

Parmacheene Belle

Hook: Standard wet fly hook, #2 to #10

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #1 White for body, #100 Black for head

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Scarlet and white, married (I personally prefer the scarlet on top)

Butt: Peacock herl

Ribbing: Flat silver tinsel

Body: Yellow mohair

Hackle: “White fronted by scarlet” per Mr. Henry Wells

Wing: White striped with scarlet, married

Head: Black

The correct pronunciation of this name, according to the original Abenaki Indian language, has four syllables: “Par-ma-CHEE-nee.” Here is the written account of the recipe by the originator of the pattern:

H. P. Wells’s description of the Parmacheene Belle, Fishing With the Fly, from his chapter titled Fly-Fishing in the Rangeley Region, p. 90.

“This fly somewhat resembles the ‘No Name,’ figured as No. 15 of Lake Flies in this book. As I tie it, the tail is two strands of white and two of scarlet; the body of yellow mohair, with silver tinsel; the hackle double; first white, with a scarlet hackle wound over this – capping the former so to speak; the wing white, striped with scarlet. By scarlet the color of the red ibis is to be understood.”

He does not mention the silver tinsel tag, yet the Orvis pattern has that component, and I like that addition as well, so it included it on my dressing.

As noted above I used yellow rabbit dubbing for the body since I don’t have any yellow mohair. This fly was initially created as a Lake Fly, which was a designated category of large trout flies, sometimes with added components to dress them up a bit more, that were intended for use in the remote and wilderness locations of Canada, the Adirondacks, and parts of Maine for the historically larger fish that used to be abundant in those locales. Henry Wells wrote in his article: “…indeed – hooks as large as numbers 1, 2, and 5…are at times not at all amiss.”

Too bad we can’t go back in time for a fishing trip!

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10 comments on “Parmacheene Belle

  1. Hi Don
    Would the mohair body version be mohair yarn or plain mohair dubbed onto the body?

    • Don Bastian says:

      I suppose either would be correct; Henry Wells wrote: “…the body of yellow mohair, with silver tinsel…,” and does not specify yarn or dubbed.
      At the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Heritage Day on June 14th, a vendor next to me had a large selection of carded mohair yarn. I dug through his bin and found a card of scarlet, which I bought, but unfortunately, no yellow. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Bill says:

    A lovely rendering, DB, and more good historical info.

  3. Peter Rodgers says:

    That is a beautiful fly, Don, and a beautiful photo as well.

  4. John Bacon says:

    Fascinating, Don. I thought I was a decent tyer, but the term “married” has baffled me. How does one “marry” to create the red and white tail and wing?

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi John;
      Thanks for your interest and comment! The term “married” as it applies to flies, is an old method, going back well into the early 1800’s. To put it simply, it involves using matched pairs or matched sections of feathers, whether they are goose or swan shoulder, turkey wing or tail, water fowl flank feathers, or the most common as they relate to wet flies, goose or duck wing quill sections. Each individual fiber or “barb” has little fuzzy things, called “barbules” along both edges. They give the feather integrity when on the bird, and give that same integrity to fly tiers when “marrying wings.”

      Selecting a section of a right red duck wing quill, and a section of right white duck wing quill, the two sections, when brought alongside one another, evened up at the tips; the barbules grab like velcro and you have a married wing, or section that is ready to tie in,or more can be added. Watch here soon, I’ll be placing a photo of a Silver Doctor wet fly with a six-strip married wing, using feather sections from three different birds – duck, turkey, and guinea fowl.

      I hate to sound like a used car salesman, but if you are interested in giving this a try, check out my two wet fly tying DVD’s. Tying Classic Wet Flies, and Advanced Classic Wet Flies. Both are available at MyFlies.com, go to my product page. Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Kelly L says:

    Don, as always this is another historical lesson. I appreciate the attention to detail. I loved the fly photos too. Thanks for clearing up the recipe for us as well. Bravo!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Kelly;
      I’m happy that you appreciate my work! Thanks for your comments! Glad also that you share my historical interest on flies and fly tying. :-) Keep cool!

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