Hooked on hormones

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
One of my 1996 books of the year was an impressive volume entitled Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History, by Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V Sils. Not the sexiest title, it's true, but it didn't do justice to the contents - 300 pages of stunning photos of flies, tied with feathers from birds such as scarlet ibis, cock-of-the-rock and Andean condor.

The more alert reader will have spotted that such birds are not the ones you see scrabbling for last week's bread on the bird table. But old fly dressers didn't worry too much about details like extinction. In Victorian times, such birds ended up as hats or fishing flies, and most animals didn't fare much better. An elephant was merely two wedges of ivory and four walking-stick stands.

Tying such flies nowadays would need the environmental sensitivity of an African dictator. And even if the materials were still available, it would take a real enthusiast to collect them. Purists might like to know that the correct dubbing for a Tupp's Indispensable is "the fine, glossy fuzz found in the neighbourhood of a ram's testicles". Not the easiest stuff to find or, indeed, to collect. It's probably a good job that there aren't any flies tied from polar bears.

However, Schmookler's book, while undoubtedly comprehensive, fails to list anything tied with female pubic hairs. Not a complete surprise, perhaps, but after writing a story about such a lure for Wednesday's Independent, I have discovered the self-same attraction is far from new.

It all started from a letter in the Field, where a reader claimed to have caught a 4lb salmon on a fly tied with, er, materials supplied by his wife. "My problem is not so much that I have run out of raw materials for my fly-tying, but what to call this superb new fly," he wrote.

Field readers proved they are not all irascible old colonels by coming up with a selection of salacious and often smutty suggestions. This column is fortunately above such things, but my idea would be Mojo. A mojo was actually a voodoo charm made from a lock of a woman's pubic hair, which was interwoven with a man's hair and worn round the female's neck. Reputedly, it revealed (don't ask me how) if a woman had been unfaithful. Interesting, huh?

Anyway, the Field subsequently received letters from other demented anglers who had tried a similar experiment. In the issue out tomorrow, one writes that his success rate had been improved markedly "since I married and persuaded the accommodating memsahib to sacrifice a tuft or two at the beginning of each season for fly-tying purposes".

The idea may not be all that far-fetched. Professor Peter Behan, from the department of neurological sciences at Glasgow University, suggested in Salmon and Women that pheromones could account for the success of female anglers in catching far more large salmon.

"Communication by chemicals would have a pivotal role in their survival, growth, reproductive success and other physiological and biological functions. It is quite possible that salmon could sense the sex hormones of women and be attracted to them."

Asking a wife or girlfriend to supply material is not easy, and the subject would need to be broached very delicately. But fishermen who feel they could manage without outside assistance could be setting themselves up for failure.

Behan details an Idaho experiment where male volunteers put their hands in the water at the top of a channel that salmon were ascending. The salmon immediately retreated and did not try to ascend again for at least 15 minutes. When female hands were put in the water, the fish continued to swim up-river. If salmon react like that to hands, just imagine what a clump of male pubic hair would do.

In the interests of research, I have been trying to discover more about the correct dressing for the nymph version. Sadly, everyone from the writer of that original letter onwards wants, for some reason, to remain anonymous. That said, I did receive a message from the first Anon, saying cryptically: "A fish in the hand is worth two in the bush." Whatever does he mean?