A Short History of Silk Fly Lines

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The Kingfisher braided silk line was the result of a happy marriage between P D Malloch and an expert in the field of braiding. In 1908 in Leicester, (England), they designed and built the first Kingfisher silk fly line together.  It was no accident, since coupled with Mr. Malloch’s vast experience in the world of fishing was his undoubted mathematical ability plus his ability to design and patent, in 1884, the Malloch casting reel, the forerunner of the present fixed spool reel.

The basis for this new type of fishing line, which would replace horsehair, was set against strict criteria set out by Mr. Malloch (see below).  It is this which resulted in the Kingfisher silk fly line and what made it superior to others, the weight and diameter being built into the line at the time of braiding and not by a coating added to a uniform core.

Silk lines enjoyed their heyday and then fell out of favour as new materials became available and cheaper.  However, quality products never entirely go away, and many silk lines remained in use.

In the mid 1970s, not too far away from where the first silk line was made in Leicester, Noel Buxton took up the challenge.  He was a keen and knowledgeable fisherman, with an engineering background – a combination of the original skills that produced the Kingfisher line.  All the original data had been destroyed and, after many years of careful research, Noel produced the Phoenix Line.  In the England, he was designated a National Treasure – and many people all over the world still believe this to be true.  Phoenix silk fly lines thus continued the tradition. Co-incidentally, a similar sequence of events was taking place in Paris, France, and Michel Dubois made silk lines there.  History repeated itself yet again and as Monsieur Dubois retired, the machinery was sold to Jean-Pierre Thebault, who continued to make silk lines in France.  A short time after, Noel Buxton also retired and sold Phoenix to Mike Brookes who continues the same tradition.

A final word from P D Malloch

These are the criteria that Malloch set for the performance of an oil-dressed, braided silk fly line.

  1. Made by craftsmen with painstaking care
  2. Taper is built in at the time of braiding
  3. Soft and pliable
  4. Will not stretch or crack
  5. Unaffected by extreme variations in temperature
  6. Will last for years and years
  7. Silk give correct weight for smaller diameter
  8. Less wind resistance
  9. Quicker, smoother lift from the water
  10. Less bulk to place on water and therefore less disturbance
  11. Allow delicate presentation of flies
  12. Gives more speed and positive feel
  13. Improved casting powers in both distance and accuracy

And a word of caution from the Kingfisher booklet issued with their lines –

” We do recommend running a line off the reel at the end of the day – or wiping it and then running it back on the drier – but some people never have done this and it hasn’t really mattered. After all, there are lots of things we should do but don’t – so if you are the type that doesn’t bother – we won’t either, though you may have to buy another line before a fisherman in Nottingham (England) did – his lasted 42 years before being caught in the propeller of a boat at his local reservoir.”

Phoenix Silk Flylines – a review from Australia

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Part of the joy of making Phoenix Lines is the direct contact with our clients. The lines are hand crafted and, of necessity, take time to make.  It is therefore heartwarming, especially during the winter months, to receive reports from clients about their use of Phoenix flylines and their various adventures.  Here is one such report from Peter Elks in Australia, who has been using Phoenix since 2003, possibly longer.  We are hugely grateful to Peter for taking the time to write this and found it very readable indeed.

“I am still a huge fan of your lines as they really do outperform the moderns in categories that really do count when it comes to good fish coming to the bank.

It is very apparent in Australia that a great many flyfishers frequently overlook or simply don’t take the time to acknowledge the real benefits offered. Maybe it’s because many feel that modern technology overides everything from the past, and that modern must be better? So we stop both looking and thinking further!

The benefits of a Phoenix silk silk double taper are to my belief as follows —

Pick up and laydown is direct, accurate, slick and has less surface disturbance than plastic.
The way these lines float ensures they cast lesser shadows than modern lines.
The lines have practically zero memory yet are very supple.
The lines are naturally textured to assist in the aerodynamic efficiency and floatation qualities, yet they are soft and supple on the fingers.
Rollcasting and variations of such casts, such, as spey, are far superior to any other line I have ever used.
The tip diameter of the lines is considerably less than modern equivalents.
Low flash finish and a real time wind cheating ability due to the lines weight and diameter ratios gives additional edges over plastic .
Furthermore a greased line floats and an ungreased is a perfect intermediate yet both these qualities is stored on the one reel you fish with.

All these qualities then present a very fishy array of major benefits not found in modern lines and for me personally are the direct reason I’ve been able to outwit some truly well educated good trout in the past few years.”

Website:  www.phoenixclassics.com

Would like to know about care of a Silk Fly line:  Link

Anyone fancy a beer – something different?

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For the purists beer with the addition of chestnuts might seem odd, but this beer surprised me. I would not have bought it by choice, but wanted to taste the whole range from Le Croix du Rat. Surprisingly, it has a nice hoppy flavour, but I was not getting chestnut at all. Would go well with fish and chips or a pork pie (paté en crout).

The female view aka Jean was that it had a pleasant after taste of chestnut, but again would have not known it contained chestnut.  The label is a give away! She imagined herself somewhere in an English pub with a Ploughman’s in an English pub – (a good English cheese, pickle, chunk of bread, butter and some salad).

We both like the plea on the label of all the beers from La Croix de Rat to recycle the bottles by taking them back to the brasserie!

5 tips for Silk Fly Line care

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Silk lines, contrary to popular belief, do not require extensive amounts of care, but do require a little more than synthetic lines. Here are a 5 tips that are worth knowing about.

1. The major misconception about of greasing silk lines.

Only the lightest coat of Red Mucilin is necessary – apply the Red Mucilin with the pad provided and then wipe with a tissue or soft cloth to remove excess.  Over-greasing attracts dirt and scum and leads to the line sinking. Always make certain that the line is dry before applying Red Muclin.

Note: For Phoenix Silk Fly Lines, we recommend to use Red Mucilin only.


2. They need too much care when fishing.

No.  If one whips loops on to either end of a double taper line, it is a simple matter to reverse the line during a heavy day’s fishing (bearing in mind that 90% plus of fish are caught within 15 yards). The whole line can then be cleaned and put away at the end of the day. 


3. Check your tip ring regularly.

The most frequent problem with the use of silk lines occurs at the tip ring. Silk lines do not take kindly to being ripped through the tip ring before false casting. The fisherman arrives at the bank side, unhooks the fly from the keeper and drags the fly line through the tip ring, bending the tip of the rod almost double. The sharp bend here does not do the fly line any good at all – likewise a worn tip ring (or if agate, a cracked tip ring) will rip the coating off a silk line very quickly – most fishermen will know that the rings on a rod are expendable – they do wear and should be replaced as often as is necessary, especially with loop tip rings and snake intermediates.


4. Overloading the reel

The other problem is overloading the reel.  All the books say fill the reel to its maximum, which is fine when winding on line in one’s living room, but when at the water with a fish on, winding in line evenly is the last thing on one’s mind and it is all to easy to have the line unevenly wound onto the reel and scrape the line on the inside of the reel cage.  If the reel is overloaded, then reduce the amount of backing or use a larger reel with your rod.

5, Loose coils are good.

After a day’s fishing wipe the line dry with a soft cloth. If possible leave the line on a line drier or in loose coils until the next fishing trip. At the end of the season, leave it in loose coils between two sheets of paper in a drawer for example. 

If one looks after one’s silk line as well as the reel and the rod are cared for, it should give many years of service.

And a word of caution from the booklet Kingfisher issued with their lines:

” We do recommend running a line off the reel at the end of the day – or wiping it and then running it back on the drier – but some people never have done this and it hasn’t really mattered. After all, there are lots of things we should do but don’t – so if you are the type that doesn’t bother – we won’t either, though you may have to buy another line before a fisherman in Nottingham (England) did – his lasted 42 years before being caught in the propeller of a boat at his local reservoir.”

Cleaning out the chickens …….

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Cleaning out the chickens is not our favourite pastime on a Sunday morning, so today it was well rewarded with another beer from La Croix du Rat. This time we chose the Ambrée, something of the colour of the eggs which our lovely Maran chickens lay, so it seemed appropriate.

So what did we think?

I found it a significantly darker beer and delicious. Jean described it as fizzy and with a big head, but a beer drinker just can’t call beer ‘fizzy’.  This beer is definitely not fizzy and she have a lot more to drink yet to improve my beer vocabulary. So the assessment  is that it is a very round beer, well balanced and even at 6% is not too sweet. A good beer.

Making silk fly lines – the process

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Phoenix Silk Fly Lines will soon be celebrating 30 years of making silk fly lines, following the traditional methods employed by Kingfisher in Scotland. We are grateful to Noel Buxton who spent many years researching how Kingfisher lines were made, since all their records were destroyed when they finished trading. Noel Buxton rose Phoenix from the ashes of Kingfisher and was awarded the title of National Treasure in the England for his work. When his Noel’s health started to fail, he chose hand over to Mike Brookes, who has been continuing this traditional craft since 1998.

What follows is an outline of the process starting when the silk arrives at the workshop as 20/22 denier silk, which made up of between 7 and 8 strands of silkworm silk.

Silk as it arrives at the Phoenix Workshop

The silk is first wound on to bobbins to the required number of counts – for example a DT 5 line has no less than 120 of theses “ends’ in the tip and 216 in the belly.

The bobbins are then put on to braiding machines, which braid the silk into various thicknesses, tapered at either end (for a DT lines). Even the smallest imperfection in either the taper on the dressing can affect the line’s casting performance, so this braiding is done with the utmost care.

An antique wooden braiding machine.


Mike Brookes spinning a line.


After braiding the lines are either dyed green or left in their natural colour, which after dressing gives an attractive honey shade.

The lines are then impregnated with an enamel oil under pressure, causing the oil to penetrate into every strand. This keeps the line both soft and supple throughout the length of its life.

The braid is then coated with a second oil and the lines are then varnished and polished to the smooth and pliable finish required by the fisherman.  It is the degree of hand finishing and care that ensures the quality and performance of the line.

The finished product.

La Croix du Rat – Biere Blanche

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Biere Blanche from La Croix du Rat is the first in the series.  It is made by a Steven Dunn, who is Irish but lives in St. Cyprien and has a stall at the bustling market of Sarlat. The market is held every Saturday morning and well worth a visit.

Mike – the real Yorkshire man who drinks real beer.

‘Light, perfumed flavour, well balanced, rather sweet for my taste, but for a beer at 6 per cent, not bad at all. Does not stay very long in the glass.’

Jean – not a beer drinker at all.

‘Flowery, not acidic, fine bubbles nice colour, I like it!’

We both liked the descriptive label and the plea to return the empty bottle to the brasserie. Good recycling and good business! The label was printed as one piece and wrapped around the bottle – very clever. Each beer has a really good description on the label of what has been used to make that particular beer.

Next Sunday – Biere Blonde

Some notes on rod action

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I suppose that there are three descriptions of rod action: fast, medium and slow, and, of course, all points in between. Forget all the adjectives such as progressive, parabolic etc.

A fast action rod flexes predominantly at the tip

A medium rod has the action moving down the middle part of the rod

A slow action rod bends down into the grip.

Imagine gripping a common playing card on one edge and flicking it with the other hand, then listen for the sound. Next grip the card in the middle and flick, and finally grip it three quarters of the way down and flick again. The sound the card makes gets higher in pitch the more the card is forced to bend nearer the end.

This is exactly the same with a fly rod. If the tip only bends, the rod recovers very quickly, short tip movement equals fast action and tight loops. As the action moves down the rod the tip moves further and further taking longer and longer to recover, making larger loops and slowing down the rod.

Do not be misled by all the hype that tight loops are essential to ‘good’ rod action. A wide loop will allow a fly to be presented more slowly and delicately in situations that need it. When roll casting a slow action rod will roll the line out far more effectively than a fast action rod. For example, this can be seen when using greenheart rods both for roll and traditional spey casting. If one has a slower action rod the wider loop can be offset by using silk lines which are thinner and cut through the wind better. A similar effect can be seen with faster action rods.

Sunday Beer

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We live in the Loire Valley, where there is a huge selection of exellent wines which we enjoy sharing with guests who stay in our holiday cottages, or pointing them in the direction of recommended vineyards.

However, we were recently asked about whether it was possible to visit a brasserie (brewery) in our part of France.  This innocent question has started us on a journey of the artisan breweries of France, with the occasional guest beer from elsewhere. We both thought it would be fun to post one beer each Sunday, and hope you will share it with us – virtually of course.

Mike was born and brought up in Yorkshire, where real men drink real beer, and is enjoying the journey, and Jean, who prefers her glass with a long stem, is not used to drinking beer at all so is on a journey of discovery. Each Sunday Beer will have two points of view and those who know us will not be surprised to find they might be different!

We aim to concentrate on one artisan brewery at a time, some sourced from our own travels, such as La Crox du Rat which we found in the Dordogne,  and others from ‘Le Caveau Ludois’ in Le Lude, who specialise in artisan beers and just happen to be not far away from home.

Do silk fly lines have any advantages?

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In response to a request from a reader I have put together some thoughts on the relevancy of silk lines compared with modern lines.

The first thing to note is the diameter compared to the modern line (insert photo). A silk line is about 30 % thinner than its’ plastic equivalent with a correspondingly fine point.

When comparing size for size the silk has less wind resistance, and therefore cuts through the wind better. It causes less disturbance when landing on, and lifting off the water.

A silk line has very low stretch and so, when hooking a fish the hook sets more firmly and the ‘feel’ in playing the fish is greatly enhanced and the angler feels more in touch with the quarry.

The working life of a silk line can be a long time with the minimum of care and very little effort on the part of the angler. In general, once a sportsman changes to silk, he or she stays with them for the rest of their fly fishing life.

Nick Taransky

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One way to relax is a day’s fly fishing, another would be  planing a few strips of bamboo, but if you only have a few minutes to spare, take a look at this short video and feel life slowing down!

It is theraputic to see the way Nick Taransky makes a bamboo rod and talks about his craft. Taransky and bamboo is a natural combination, just as bamboo and silk fly lines go together.  Put the three together and you have something very special.

“Silk Fly Lines, as with bamboo as a rod material, the history and tradition is part of it, but they simply perform so much better than any of the plastic lines, it’s a no brainer.” Nick Taransky

“Nick is a keen fly fisherman as well as a fine craftsmen, hand building bamboo fly rods in his workshop for a living. It was a great day as Nick is obviously passionate about his craft and keen to spread the word on how good bamboo fly rods are especially on small bushy streams encountered all over Australia.” Jack McCowan who made the video whilst visiting Nick Taransky’s workshop.

Links:

Nick Taransky Bamboo Rods

Jack McCowan

Phoenix Silk Fly Lines