Garry, source of the Garry Dog
REVEALED: Garry, the real origin of that famous fly with his owner's daughter in the 1920s

FLY PATTERNS  are a great source of controversy whether it be over hook sizes or the huge range of materials and colours available to the tyer. Occasionally too there is debate about the origins of a fly and especially its creator.

It’s entertaining from time to time to browse the wealth of online fly-tying resources around the world and marvel at the disparity in sizes, dressings and histories which can be attached to a single pattern.

Take the Garry Dog, for instance. One of Scotland’s best known salmon flies, with a long history and an equally lengthy track-record of success, to this day. It nestles in countless fly boxes under the name of “Garry”, “The Dog”, “Yellow Dog” and “Minister’s Dog” in single, treble and tube formats.

It was the source of an interesting exchange of views on last year when a Canadian fly-dresser presented her version of the fly in a livery which said much about North American dress style but little about historical record.

Garry Dog - also called the Minister's Dog
The Minister's Dog - owned by the minister's daughter around 50 years ago

The Garry Dog was the very first salmon fly I ever used and I thrashed the Tweed with it one November many years ago, but without success. I was told, as I suppose were many others, that it originated in Inverness-shire on the river which gives it its name.

But a chance discussion at a dinner in Perthshire last weekend laid to rest any doubts about that famous sparse yellow, black and red fly, a dog, and a minister – and just where it first took wing.

I found myself in the company of a man with documentary evidence of the very dog in question. Colin Martin is Kelso-born marine archaeologist of world renown. His grandfather Denholm Fraser was the minister at Sprouston, just outside Kelso from 1903 to the late 1930s.

The Rev. Fraser wasn’t an angler. But he was a kenspeckle figure in the Borders and would keep in touch with his flock, strolling the town with his dog Garry, and calling in on the local shopkeepers.

Garry Dog - contemporary Scottish dressing

Unfortunately, Colin can’t recall the name of the tackle shop where his grandfather would stop to pass the time of day, but he does remember being told how the owner, a keen fly-tyer, bent to snip a few hairs from the energetic cross-Retriever to add to something that he was working on at the vice.

Colin recalls: “Garry, the dog, didn’t come from Glen Garry, but the family used to go there for holidays. My grandfather was by origin a Highlander, so I suspect that was the reason for the dog’s name.

“In the early days the fly was simply called ‘Garry” or ‘The minister’s dog’.”

So the Garry Dog was born on the banks of the Tweed in Kelso in the 1920s, the product – as the redoubtable John Gray of Kilsyth correctly records – of the minister’s pet and a knowledgeable tyer. But who was he?

Colin is trying to find out the name of the shop and its owner from a relative, but if anyone has any ideas, we may yet know before a century is out, the name of the man who actually created one of Scotland’s best-known and still-successful patterns.

3 Responses

  • Amanda

    I cannot believe I haven’t come across your site before! The tackle shop in question was my gt. uncle’s house, Bowden Cottage, just over the road from the church. The serving hatch is still on the front of the house and the flies were tied in the back room. My uncle, Bill King wasn’t the occupant at the time, he lived there much later but he along with my grandfather were great anglers and fly tyers. Golden Retrievers were always held in high esteem and kept at Bowden Cottage until the 1990s. My mum, Flora still fishes the Tweed and returning in a couple of weeks.

    Kind regards

    Amanda King.

    • Gordon Mack

      Many thanks, Amanda, for your comments. And I’m glad you found the site. It’s great when someone can add context and depth to history with personal information. I wrote a short follow-up piece on Sprouston after doing a piece with Mark Stephen for BBC Radio’s Past Live’s series. This led me to find the plaque on the wall of the Sprouston manse in memory of Garry the dog who gave the famous fly its name. Sadly I still don’t know who S. M. Fielding is, or was.

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