Edmonds' and Lee's Brook and River Trouting of 1916 is more or less the last word on North Country flies from its era. Although the book’s catalogue of flies is shorter than either Thomas Evan Pritt's or Francis Maximilian Walbran’s, it includes three dozen meticulously researched North Country patterns, split fairly evenly between game hackles and winged dressings, together with about as much instruction about selecting hackles as you could care to read on a sleepless night. There are a few favourites missing here and there, but not many, and if you don’t own a copy, then you should. However, it is worth understanding the personalities behind the book, because while the work belongs to the North Country tradition, at the same time it stands slightly apart from it.
Harfield Henry Edmonds was born on December 5th 1882 at Manningham, Bradford, and for some unexplained reason was brought up by his grandparents, being educated at Salt’s Grammar School, Shipley, where he made friends with Norman Lee. Edmonds was taught to tie flies by a signalman on the railway, became a keen entomologist, and collected naturals from rivers so that he could compare their colours with the feathers he used. To cut a very long story short, by the early 1920s he was the governing director of Thomas Edmonds and Sons (Textiles) Ltd., and he served on local councils, the committees of various fishing clubs, fishery boards, and even as vice president of the Salmon and Trout Association in 1952-53. He died at his daughter’s home in Northallerton on September 30th 1956, having earned his place in the North Country pantheon.
Norman Nellist Lee, he really did have a ‘t’ in his middle name, was born on June 24th 1881 at Heaton, Bradford, the son of John Lee and Mary Jane Nellist. His father was the company secretary and accountant of a company of silk spinners and manufacturers. The two giants were Lister and Salt, and if John was employed by Lister, then Norman was educated at Salt’s Grammar School, where he met Edmonds, before going on become the senior partner in the law firm of Norman Lee, Armistead and Roberts in Bradford. Lee died at Stonelands on 27th June 1951, three days after his 70th birthday, and is buried in St. Oswald’s graveyard at Arncliffe.
So that is who Edmonds and Lee were, what about their book? Although Brook and River Trouting ranks high in the North Country fly dressing bibliography, it has much more in common with the writing on the chalk streams than it does with earlier works like Jackson, or Pritt. This isn’t because Brook and River Trouting contains half a chapter on dry fly fishing; it is because the book is written in a completely different style to every North Country work that went before it. There is a reason for that.
When the text was finished, Lee asked George Edward MacKenzie Skues’ advice about the tying of the flies for the limited editions and this had some unexpected repercussions. Even then, Skues already had a formidable reputation as a fly dresser, though he didn’t regard himself as an expert on North Country fly patterns. What Lee hadn’t bargained on was that although Skues had no problems with the standard of their tying, he judged their writing to be appallingly illiterate. Yeah, I know. It sounds like heresy, but Skues always said exactly what was in his head. In the face of Skues’ insistence, Edmonds and Lee rolled over and revised the text, twice, under his eagle eye.
On the then very important subject of wax, Edmonds and Lee directed their readers to The Trout Fly Dresser's Cabinet Of Devices or How To Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing by Harry G. McClelland. To save you hunting around, on page 53, the author gave a recipe for transparent wax, which meant boiling down “some of the purest white or amber resin with about the same amount of turpentine”. "Resin" means rosin, which was added to make the wax sticky, and the old timers generally added beeswax, but the kicker is that modern waxes are made a completely different way and so give different results when applied to silk. Just to give an example, old waxes turned pale yellow silks noticeably olive, whereas most modern ones usually don’t, often because they have been designed not to do it. Edmonds and Lee would very possibly have written even more had they been able to see into the future, because they thought that fine shades were very important, but despite the fact that the bodies of their Partridge & Yellow had a green tint and ours do not, the fly still works. It might be that we are more critical than trout.