Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day - The Origin of the Pumpkinhead Midge

Today is the day we celebrate our Irish heritage along with many others that embrace a good reason to lift a pint and party with abandon.  Feel free to not celebrate, but if you must know, the Irish have the market cornered on celebrating their heritage and welcome anyone and everyone regardless of their family tree, to join them.

So appropriately, today we will reveal the origin of the Pumpkinhead Midge/Nymph that has set the world of subsurface fly fishing on fire.  Yes, that ubiquitous, orange-headed fly that draws trout to it from afar and puts smiles on the faces of those anglers that dare to fish it.

So here goes.................
The reality is, the model for the Pumpkinhead is ages old; in fact, its origins go back about 150 years ago to Easter Island, in the South Pacific.  I know that sounds incredulous, but it's true.  You see my great, great grandfather Harry J. O'Featherline, was an Irish whaler who spent his years at sea hunting whales and visiting islands most of the world would never see.
The story goes that his ship, His Royal Highness Corned Beef and Cabbage, anchored off of Easter Island in 1862, so the men could go ashore for some grub and sightseeing.  While there they did some research on the Moai; the large, stone head sculptures facing the sea, that had been carved by the natives many years before.  It is a little known fact that the Moai had nose rings when they were completed, fashioned from stone, bronze, and feathers from the now extinct Dodo bird.
Harry apparently was fascinated by the nose jewelry, so before he and the crew left the island, he spent the better part of a day carving a description of one on his laptablet.   That wee, carved stone with the clear description of the Easter Island Moai nose ring, has since been passed on from generation to generation until my mother, Shirley O'Featherline, gave it to me on St. Patrick's Day during a blizzard Skawla stonefly hatch.  It was epic.
Thankfully, the Irish are hoarders, so the laptablet survived intact, which is doubly good since the original Moai nose rings have since been looted by armadas of bait fishermen never to be seen again.  In fact, the laptablet is the only surviving record of the Moai nose rings.

Fast forward to 1972, when I was given a package of small, orange, tungsten beads by some fly-by-night fly tying outfitter.  These beads looked exactly like I had imagined the orange stone bead had looked on the Moai nose rings. 

Then it hit me like a ton of potatoes, all the nose rings needed was a bend with a point at the end of the Dodo feathered ring, and it would look just like a fly.  You see, great grandpa described a bronze shaft with small angled ring on one end, to which the actual nose ring was attached.  This ring was on one side of a round orange stone bead, which was followed by a wide band of iridescent Albatross feathers with a tuft of white coming off one side.  Then the rest of the shaft was wound with brown Dodo bird feathers tied in with copper wire - the ends of the Dodo bird feathers stuck out past the end much like the tail of a fly. All that it needed to make the piece a fly, was a hook on the end of the bronze shaft!

So I grabbed a hook, put an orange bead on it, and then placed the beaded hook in my tying vise and tied the first fly fashioned after a Moai nose ring using modern materials and methods.  In days, I was catching a boat load of trout on the fly in every river, stream and creek I cast the fly into.   

Finally, you ask, "How did I come up with the name?"  That was easy.  You see, all the whalers on the Irish whaling ship naturally had reddish/orange hair, which led their countrymen to call them the "Pumpkinheads."

It all makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?



Mr. Q said...

Happy St. Patty's day to ya laddy, and that is a great story...I though it had to do with the blood in the midges when they emerge...silly me.I'm soooo dumb.

Jaybird said...

So long story short you are on your 9th or 10 shot of Jameson ?? Happy ST Patricks Day . And have a quite sobering March 18th .

Matt Grobert said...

Mr. Q. tis a simple past time, no need to complicate things too much.

Jaybirdie, twas written while me was sober as a sea clam.

Happy St. Patty's Day to you both, and thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

I'll have what he's drinking!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TomK said...

Aye, hitting a wee bit o the sauce, are we? And may your home always be too small to hold all your friends.

Robbie Phelan said...

Hi from Kilkenny, Ireland..

Excellent blog, but I was wondering would you have the details to tie this pattern..

Slan, Robbie

Matt Grobert said...


Here is the tying video we made:

Let me know if you have any questions.