Sidney Buxton, M.P., had some interesting opinions for his day (the end of the nineteenth century), particularly on artificial Mayflies, many of which he thought were ‘simply grotesque.’ In his book Fishing and Shooting (John Murray, London, 1902), he wrote: ‘most of the patterns are still far too large, though, of late years, the standard size has considerably diminished. The small mayfly is easier and neater to cast, and dries quicker. It is more sporting to play and land a trout on a small hook, than to haul him out on a meat-jack. Then the fish is actually less likely to be hooked by the overgrown full-feathered fly; for often, when rising, his attempt to seize it only results in his knocking the feathers and hackle with his nose, and driving away the hook. And, finally, the fish like the little flies the best.’
Dr. Tom Sanctuary was another angler who much preferred to fish with small Mayflies. Sanctuary was born in Dorset in 1852 and died in Scarborough in 1931. He was a friend of George Selwyn Marryat, and knew Hall and Halford. His optimum size was a fly never ‘longer than 5/8in.[15mm] from the eye to the bend of the hook’ and with the wings standing up about 3/4in.[19mm] from the body.’ His advice holds true to today. He felt that ‘Unless the fish can get the fly easily into his mouth at first attempt, it is of no use.’
Although some anglers will fish with artificial mayflies tied on hooks as large as a 10, I have always felt that they were too big. Hence my choice of size 12s. But over the last two or three seasons I have decided that a size 12 can be bigger than many trout like. A size 14 can often be a more acceptable mouthful for a trout.
Towards the end of the 2012 season I spent a couple of days fishing with a visitor from the South Island of New Zealand. While he was here we had a fly swap. His flies – both nymphs and dry flies - were tied on 16s and 18s. And we all know just how big New Zealand trout can be. And a local friend who fishes in New Zealand very now and then has also commented to me how the locals that he meets all use very small flies.
Fly tiers should tie small and fly buyers should buy small.