Fly-dresser Ken helps to keep legacy alive

Ken Middlemist at the 10th International Experience the World of Fly Fishing event, which was staged in Germany.
Ken Middlemist at the 10th International Experience the World of Fly Fishing event, which was staged in Germany.

The last surviving member of a skilled workforce which dressed salmon flies for a famous fishing-tackle firm has demonstrated the craft at a major angling fair.

Ken Middlemist, 71, was specially invited to the 10th International Experience the World of Fly Fishing event in Germany, which was staged near Munich last weekend.

The pensioner is the last member of the salmon fly-dressing team which worked for Alnwick-based company Hardy Bros until the late 1960s.

Ken, from Hipsburn, said it was an honour to keep the Hardy legacy alive, demonstrating the highly-skilled craft of dressing flies in the hand.

He said: “It was an excellent experience and the event was attended by thousands of people.

“Nowadays the dressing is done using a standing vice, so the people that watched my demonstrations couldn’t believe that the flies could be tied in the hand.

“I use wax, thread, scissors and some pliers and the people that were watching had never seen anything like it before. It was nice to pass this sort of knowledge on.”

Ken started working in the Hardy packing room at the age of 15, but it wasn’t long before he learnt the fly-dressing trade.

Remembering his time at the Hardy shop, which was based on Bondgate Without at the time, Ken said: “You sat down at a work bench and we tied the flies, although I have always classed myself as a fly dresser.

“There were about eight men doing the salmon flies and about 30 women who did the wet and dry flies.”

Ken says he worked at Hardy until 1962, before he became a locomotive fireman at Alnmouth. He returned to Hardy in 1966, before the fly shop closed three years later.

An online Hardy history page says it was ‘extraordinary’ that the firm was still having all of its salmon flies tied in the hand at the Bondgate factory in the 1960s, at a time when nobody did that kind of thing anymore and the vast majority of other firms were having their flies tied in India or Africa.

Ken added: “I am the last salmon fly dresser who worked at Hardys.”

He still hand-dresses flies as a hobby and each one takes him about 20 minutes.

“I’m not as quick as I used to be,” he concedes.

The International Experience, which was staged at Fürstenfeld Monastery, is described as being the event highlight for fly fishing throughout Europe.

Ken went with Calum Gladstone, 46, who designs/builds the Gladstone series rods.