A Fly to Try this Month- Red Frances
Frances (Peter Deane)
Tail: 3 white, 3 brown hackle stalks, with brown hair (originally calf hair) dressed round.
Body: Red wool, tied in to produce a cigar/carrot shape
Rib: Oval gold
Body Hackle: Red Game
The Frances has earned a reputation on the UK salmon scene as a fly that will take otherwise reluctant fish. In the past few years, as more and more anglers fish it, this odd looking fly is being used much earlier in the season. It’s not just stale fish that are uncooperative and there are times when much fresher fish require more persuasion.
The Frances has been around for decades and varieties of the style have been popular in Iceland and parts of Scandinavia since the 1970s. Today it is a must have pattern for Atlantic Salmon throughout Northern Europe and Russia. The pattern was created by Peter Deane back in the 1960s. It takes its name from his assistant Fances Hydon who had the task of tying up Peter’s design. It will come as no surprise whatsoever that the pattern was designed to be a prawn imitation and in common with all good fly stories it caught a lot of fish and soon came to dominate catches in Iceland. Looking back it must have been either an eye opener or anathema to those of a more conservative view of salmon flies and how to present them.
Fishing the Frances varies, it can be fished conventionally with great success. Aficionados, at least the ones I know, insist it is when it is fished at depth and worked through a pool that the Francis really comes into its own. The use of sinking lines/long sink tips and a Frances to find the depth that fish find it most tempting is a popular tactic as are variations of the sink and draw theme. Fishing tubes deep to resident fish is now widely practiced. It is also a useful tactic for springers as early as March and April. Sean Stanton the ghillie at Ballogie on the Dee is of the view that to consider the Frances as an exclusively back end fly is a serious mistake and encourages his rods fish a Red Frances for springers. Sean, who is unequivocal about the potency of the Frances believes, anglers like me, who dig it out having already passed the point of exasperation with every other fly in the box, are missing a trick. “It is the truest shrimp imitation- the body shape and feelers contribute to creating a disturbance in the water. Salmon are predators and I am sure the Frances triggers a predatory response. Fished on a sunk line it moves behaves like no other fly. Its not a last resort”
From a fly tying perspective one of the indicators of a successful pattern, at least to me, is that the variants of the Frances have grown and grown, which is always a sign that a pattern has really taken off. The Frances has evolved and changed over time. One of the original versions- known at the time as the Black Eyed Prawn- had two black eyes on top towards the rear of the fly. That seems to have been omitted over time, possibly as a simplification for the tying process. There is a school of thought that these eyes made the fly even more effective. The pattern’s DNA can be seen in a number of patterns. Interestingly I was thinking back to my piece on the Pot Belly Pig and Pete Whittingham referred to a prawn type flies during his time working as a ghillie in northern Europe. He was clearly interested in the style back then and his innovation to swap the stalks for boar bristle resulted in the Pig. We also have Sean’s Franc N Snaelda, which I featured in my first column and Ron Sutherland’s Super Snaelda as recent variations on the theme.
To be honest I find tying the cigar shaped wool body a bit of a drag. I have seen it done and can’t help but think it’s a bit of a pain. Fortunately changes in tube styles, such as Sean’s Signature tubes have been designed with that in mind and have made the body shape much easier to achieve than was the case with regular slipstream style tubes. I revert to my old favourite, seal’s fur for this job. I can’t recall where, although I am fairly confident that the early Black Eyed Prawn versions were made from seals’s fur. Perhaps my laziness may have been passed off as being authentic. No?
There are good videos online that demonstrate how to tie the Frances, and plenty of discussion online about its use. If you are in the mood to experiment, there is nothing to hold you back.
First Printed in Trout & Salmon