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Philip Bailey will be well known and remembered by many Melbourne based fly flickers.  I say that because around 10 years ago Philip moved to England.  During my trips back to the old Dart to attend the British Fly Fair I was able to meet up with Philip and although briefly, it was good to chat and catch up on old times.  For a while Philip had a tackle shop at Moonee Ponds and was also the foundation President of the Australian Trout Foundation.  If you are planning a trip over to the UK and want to a bit of fishing then Philip’s your man; he has just set up a guiding service and you can find out all about it on his new website: www.flyfishwithme.net

Oliver Kite
Kite's Imperial
Kite's Imperial, tied by Philip Bailey, pic Mick

Oliver Kite was a Welshman by birth, moving to Lancashire in his teens and finally settling in Wiltshire after his extended duty in the British Army.  Born in 1912, he settled in Netheravon, Wiltshire and took up residence (the Avon ran at the back of his cottage) across the road from the great Frank Sawyer, becoming close friends and fishing companions.  Unfortunately this friendship ceased abruptly and in his book Kite only briefly refers to Sawyer.  The influence of Sawyer on Kite is obvious when reading his writings and referring to both the style of fishing and the flies used.  Kite died suddenly of a heart attack in 1968 whilst fishing the famous Test River.

Kite was a minimalist considering that presentation of the fly was more important than matching colour and the exactness of the insects.  He published 6 dry flies as a writer (Hawthorn Fly, Pale Evening Dun, Apricot Spinner, Sepia Dun, a brown sedge and the Imperial).  Towards the end of his life he found that just one, the Imperial, would catch fish no matter what real fly they were feeding on.  He even reduced his fishing time and never fished the evening rise.   What fishing he must have missed out on – spinner falls, midge hatches and massive caddis activity.

Kite was also famous for the ‘bare hook’ pattern.  A hook with a thorax of fine copper wire – was this a further development of the Sawyer theory?

We need to also remember that Kite fished the southern chalk streams of England, rarely moving farther afield.


Kite's published works proved inspirational

From time to time, there are some fly patterns that stand the test of time and should become immortal.   In Australia, the ‘Pot Scrubber’ is probably one of these, in America the ‘Quill Gordon’ is another and here in the United Kingdom ‘Kite’s Imperial’ could be classed as such a fly and there are probably lots of other patterns that could equally be included.   We will each have our own ideas about that.

I first started reading about the ‘Kite’s Imperial’ some years ago after devouring books by Skues and Sawyer and moving into two books.  One written by Oliver Kite – Nymph Fishing in Practice and the other by Philip Brown – A Fishermen’s Diary (a collection of  articles published by Kite).  

Mick Hall & Philip Bailey talk about Oliver Kite and
and report on a variation to his fly, the Imperial.

"Fly Talk" - Freshwater Fishing magazine, #99, November/December 2009
Left:  Oliver Kite

When I first came to the UK and started fishing the streams in the north, I tied up a few of Kite’s Imperial using his traditional pattern.  They worked okay but didn’t perform as well as some of the parachute patterns I used.  The rivers in the north of England are similar to those in Australia – boulder and stone bottoms – and not at all like a chalk stream.  In addition, they suffer periods of spate when they run high and with large sections of them providing rough aerated water.  Because they were lower in other periods, the fish populated these turbid areas of the stream.  My Imperials just sank.

I was convinced that the basics of the pattern were right.  It was effective in most situations, it looked great as a fly and I could catch fish when other patterns failed.  I set about adapting the pattern into a parachute fly.  “The Kite” was born.

Oliver Kite tied his fly with a pronounced ‘thorax’ right behind the hackle.  The idea was to dress the fly in “the normal Netheravon manner”.  I am not sure what he means by this but I am convinced that he was referring to the thorax of a Sawyer Nymph.  Was it effective? Probably, because the fish would not have been able to see it anyway.

Kite never quite stated specifically how he dressed the Imperial and there are various theories as to the exact dressing.  His description is even open to interpretation:

“I dress the fly on a size 0 or size 1 (16 or 14).  Tying silk is purple and the hackle is honey dun, in theory.  The whisks should be greyish brown in spring, honey dun or nearest later.  The body is made of about four un-dyed heron primary herls, doubled and redoubled to form the thorax.
The fly should be ribbed with fine gold wire.  It was the combination of the purple silk and gold wire which led to the fly being called the Imperial.”
(It should be noted that Great Britain only has around 50 species of Mayflies or Upwings as they call them and the vast majority belong to the Baetid family, hence the reason for the small hooks-Mick Hall)

Does the purple show through the herl?  Was the herl wrapped around the thread (heron is fairly fragile) and then wound onto the hook?  How was the thorax tied? How many turns of hackle?  You can see that Kite left a lot unanswered.  Perhaps if he lived longer these questions may have been dealt with.  What is certain though is he left the world with a wonderful fly as his legacy.  It is used today all over England and during many different type of fly hatches.

“The Kite”, named in honour of him (I am not one to change a fly and then use its original name; it is a different pattern once altered) evolved from his pattern.  I have added a wing, obviously to accommodate a parachute hackle.  I have retained the considered manner of tying the body – open turns of herl to let the purple silk to show (I believe that the use of purple is highly under-rated in fly patterns, especially dun patterns).

I have added a wing, obviously to accommodate a parachute hackle.  I have retained the considered manner of tying the body – open turns of herl to let the purple silk to show (I believe that the use of purple is highly under-rated in fly patterns, especially dun patterns).

I have replaced the thorax with the ‘butt’ end of the wing.  And, I have added a size smaller than what Oliver Kite would have used.

In tying this pattern, I have also included a different way of tying a parachute. Hans Van Klinken, famous for the ‘klinkhamer’, originated this approach.  What I like about it is that the tying off actually occurs right at the bottom of the wing post and under the hackle.  This effectively places the thorax and body down into the water surface and this, I am sure, gives the fish a better profile and establishes a key trigger point.

This is just one pattern from a series that I have originated.  Others include a Pale Watery (“The PWO”), March Brown (“The Brown”), Large Dark Olive (“The Olive”), and Yellow May (“The Yellow”).  With these five patterns, in various sizes, I can cover most up-wing fly hatches in the United Kingdom.  They would equally take fish in Australia.

“The Kite”
As designed by Philip Bailey

Hook:  Fine wire sizes 12 to 18 (Partridge Flashpoint SLD preferred)
Thread:   8/0 purple Uni thread (or substitute) for the body, Spider Wire for the wing post.
Tail:   5 – 10 honey dun hackle fibres
Body:   2 – 3 fibres from Blue Heron feather (This bird is protected in the northern hemisphere; I have picked mine up from the river side.  A substitute will do but it must be grey and not blue.)
Rib:   Fine gold wire
Wing:   Enrico Puglisi TriggerPoint International Fibres in Dark Dun
Hackle:   High quality honey dun.