It requires no canvas, no paint, no clay, but fly tying is an art form nonetheless. Working with an array of tools and accessories - vices, magnifying glasses, pliers, needles, scissors, tweezers, threads, hooks, feathers, furs, wool, silks, metallic tinsels and more - anglers create not just an implement for sport fishing, but a thing of beauty as well.
Six of the most attractive flies used in Canada are captured in Canada Post's colourful Fishing Flies domestic-rate stamp set: the Lady Amherst, Coquihalla Orange, Cosseboom Special, Dark Montreal, Coho Blue and Steelhead Bee - some of the best known and most popular in the sport.
Given the tremendous interest in sport fishing (or "angling") in Europe, Canada was a fisherman's paradise for early settlers. Nineteenth-century writers described Canadian trout and salmon fishing as some of the greatest in the world. Incredible catches in the thousands were recorded. It is said that the rivers were so filled with fish it seemed possible to cross the water by walking on their backs. Though not as abundant now as before, Canadian fish still attract about a million tourist anglers, in addition to the 5.6 million Canadians who enjoy the sport.
Fly-fishing is one of four traditional methods of sport fishing. Bait fishing - with worms, larvae and minnows; trolling or trailing bait behind a slow-moving boat; and bait casting and spinning with lures and minnows are the other three. With fly-fishing, the angler uses silk, feather, hair, wool and other materials to imitate the flies and insects that live in or near water - the prey that many fish seek out for nourishment. But fishing flies are more than simply artificial copies of food forms. In fact, many are fanciful, gaudy creations unlike anything in nature! There are different flies for different sport fish and favourites exist for specific geographic locations. Canadian fishing flies, as the sport of fly-fishing itself, owe much to Scotland and England. Nineteenth century texts, which did much to standardize and promote fly "dressing" or tying, originated in the UK, so more than 1,000 recognized standard patterns for salmon and trout flies are mostly based on historic Scottish and English patterns, according to Canadian angling and fishing-fly authority David Lank. With changing tastes and materials, a whole range of new flies has evolved, Lank says. In many of the classic patterns, the feathers of exotic or rare bird species have been replaced, and new flies have been created by local tyers to meet local conditions.
The Canada Post Fishing Flies commemorative stamp issue features six of our nation's finest fly patterns. The Fishing Flies issues are delicate montages that fuse images of colourful fishing flies with backdrops of relevant water surfaces - the "books" of the flyfisher - and subtle images of the coveted game-fish these flies are intended to tempt. The development of this unique stamp collection was almost as intricate as the creation of the flies themselves! Each of the flies was custom made by an eminent fly-tyer from one of the principal centres of fly fishing in Canada. The flies and the water patterns were then photographed by James Steeves of Halifax. Finally, designer and illustrator Paul-Michael Brunelle of Halifax created the fish illustrations that provide the backgrounds, and incorporated all elements into the final designs.
Perhaps the most elegant salmon fly of all, the Lady Amherst is a classic featherwing for Atlantic salmon created by George Bonbright in 1925. It is fashioned with wings of white-and-black feathers from the Lady Amherst pheasant, a fowl brought to the UK from China by William Pitt Amherst, Governor General of India in the early 19th century. Its most famous moment in Canadian history was in 1951 when, after a battle of one-and-a-half hours, Walter Molson of Montreal took a 48-pound salmon from the Red Pine Pool on the Bonaventure - the largest salmon ever landed from that river!