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:
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.
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
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!