Revealing the history of The Waddington Shank

Written by Mark Hamnett

History of the Waddington Shank

Salmon fishing in the early 1800’s was done exclusively using blind-eyed hooks where the cast (of plaited horsehair or gut) was whipped onto the shank of the hook and later would have been attached with a gut loop that had been dressed as part of the fly. In or around 1845 steel-eyed hooks made their debut and to the annoyance of many in his book Practice of Angling O’Gorman clearly states his intense dislike of “the newly invented hook . . . with an eye in the shank.  It is another Scotch invention, and its usefulness may be placed on a par with the newly invented method of breeding salmon. Any fly tied on a hook of this description must be clumsy.” Trout hooks with a ringed-eye first came onto the market much later around 1875, their invention being attributed to H. S Hall.

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The Waddington Shank

Early Salmon Hooks

Early Salmon hooks were huge by today’s standards with sizes 3/0 to 10/0 being used for fishing in strong and gusty winds since they were fished at the bottom. The weight of a good salmon iron was useful in getting the fly down to the fish. However, as Gorman stated when taken by a Salmon, large hooks are clumsy and prone to being levered out of the fishes mouth.

The first tube fly has been attributed to British author and angler Alexander Wanless, whom in his book The Angler And The Thread Line shares for the first time his tube fly patterns and their use. Wanless was an avid spin-fishing angler but wanted to bring the superior properties of the fly into his own style of fishing. To do so he devised a pattern that could be fished using a thread (spinning) line. He outlined various other fly innovations in his book Thread Line Salmon Fly all with one thing in common they could all be tied using smaller hooks so would not work as levers when salmon took them, improving his catch rate.

Tube Flies and Waddington Shanks are related insofar as both evolved from the introduction of eyed hooks and the mass production of small treble hooks.

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The Waddington Shank

British angler Richard Waddington (b.1910 – d.1999) first conceived the idea of what we now call the Waddington Shank in the 1940s. It should be mentioned that Waddington was no ordinary angler and not merely a fly dresser – he was possibly the most eminent salmon fisherman of the twentieth century.  He challenged contemporary thinking and related available material to fishing method and practice of the day.  His study of salmon biology, life-cycle and migration led him to rethink the techniques of the day to achieve more successful results.

His intelligent interpretation of fish physiology has changed our approach to modern salmon fishing and his theories are at the very heart of our fishing techniques today.

In his book Salmon Fishing, A New Philosophy published in 1947, he wrote;

“My ideal salmon fly, however, is quite revolutionary. The shank will remain a steel bar – though were it not for the weight I should prefer something pliable like a heavy nylon strand. This will be linked with a plain loop to a small triangle. The fly will not be dressed in the normal way. The body will be the same but the wing will disappear to be replaced by plenty of hackles dressed all round the fly so that whichever way it is turned it will have the same appearance.

I surmise that this fly will look more natural in the water; that the small triangle is less obvious than a large hook and that once the fish is hooked it will give a better hold. The link in the shank will obviate much of the strain and movement in the hook.”

Waddington conceived his shank concept as a solution to the challenges that he had identified to catching more Atlantic Salmon in Scotland.  At the time he was fishing standard salmon flies made on 8/0 hooks and observed that the patterns he was fishing were in effect imitations of fish and felt that large salmon irons were not helping with the illusion so experimented with “The Rational Fly” tied on to cut down blind-eyed shanks with gut loops and small triangles (treble hooks).  Fishing the Scottish Dee with these prototypes he increased his catch rate significantly thereby proving his thesis of the combination of reduced profile dressings with smaller trebles.

No doubt Albert Partridge became interested when both ghillies and their customers were waxing lyrically in the press about their increased bag of Salmon on the new style of fishing!

Early production was a single shank and only later on manufactured by with double wire shank construction we fish today.  Today Shanks have found favour once more with modifications that Richard Waddington would have approved for the tying of Intruder Patterns when targeting Atlantic and Pacific Salmon, Steelhead and a wide variety of Predator and Sea species.

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The Waddington Shank was designed such that the front end was heavier than the tail end (trailing hook) so the fly swam horizontally like a fish. The detachable treble hook represented the tail of the fish and the original dressings on the shank were constructed with long hackles to reach the hook giving the fly a torpedo-like shape, the body of the dressing being just like any other salmon fly.

Waddington’s theory about the shank design overcame the problems of leverage experienced when using large single hooks, which caused so many problems in the 1940’s. Shortening the length of the shank decreased the leverage on the Waddington Shank.

The treble hooks could also be replaced easily because of the construction of the tail end of the shank; opening up the loop replacing the treble and closing the loop. The shanks having a fine diameter would also allow the flies to sink more quickly and also slim bodied flies to be created.

Partridge got involved in the manufacture of Waddington Shanks in the 1960’s, producing them by hand on a bowing machine initially, in time these were produced on an automated bowing machine and these days on CNC Machines ensuring that they are all the same size and shape and configuration.

The resurgence of shanks and the rise and rise of Intruder patterns in North America has fuelled a series of imitators on the market and a number of developments at Partridge of Redditch, first in 2013 with the introduction of Intruder Shanks, where the trailing eye is oriented vertically so that it can be used to mount double and single hooks (rather than the original treble) and most recently a straight-eyed version designed specifically with predator fishing in mind – Predator Shanks are for those looking for articulation when they are linked together.

InchMetricTreble Hook SizeSalmon Single Equivalent
2 ⅜ in55 mm2 to 46/0 to 5/0
1 ¾ in45 mm4 to 64/0 to 3/0
1 ⅜ in35 mm6 to 81/0 to 1
1 in25 mm8 to 102 to 4
¾ in20 mm10 to 146 to 8
⅝ in15 mm12 to 168 to 10
⅜ in10 mm18 to 2012 to 14
Sources:

  1. O’Gorman – Practice of Angling, 1845
  2. Alexander Wanless – The Angler And The Thread Line, 1932
  3. Eric Taverner – Salmon Fishing, 1945
  4. Richard Waddington – Salmon Fishing, A New Philosophy, 1947
  5. Richard Waddington – Salmon Fishing, Philosophy and Practice 1959
  6. Richard Waddington – Waddington on Salmon Fishing, 1991

With thanks to Paul Slaney for the images of the flies tied on Waddington Shanks.

Partridge sproat wet #4

Obituary

Richard Waddington – born 21 January 1910, died 2 November 1999

Richard Waddington, who revolutionised the way that Scottish grouse moors were run commercially in the post-war era, gave his name to the Waddington Lure for salmon fishing, and who had a total of nine books on outdoor gaming subjects published, has died at his retirement home in Findhorn, Moray, at the age of 89.

War veteran Mr Waddington was a member of an Anglo-Chilean diplomatic family, his grandfather having served as that South American country’s ambassador in Britain, while his father had a similar post in Belgium, where he met Richard’s mother who was studying music at the Brussels Conservatoire.

Richard was educated at Marlborough School and had intended going to Trinity College in Oxford until his stepfather, James Marshall, who owned a 14,000-acre estate now under the control of the National Trust at Coniston Water in the Lake District, persuaded him to go to Aberdeen University, the only institution at that time offering a science degree in forestry.

Richard married Elspeth Grant of Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, whom he met as a student, and on graduation went to London, where he worked as a freelance journalist in the immediate pre-war era. There was a strong military tradition in Richard’s mother’s family – her uncle David, the first Earl Beatty, having served as Admiral of the Fleet, while two of Richard’s uncles on his mother’s side, were Generals.

During the war, Richard was seconded to the Intelligence Corps and saw service in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy (where he was wounded twice). After a further spell of active service, Richard was commissioned as a Major in the Scots Guards, before being de-mobbed.

Recovering from his exertions, he rented a farmhouse at Advice, on Speyside, where he met Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, who at the time was fishing on the productive Tulchan beat of the Spey. Through that connection, he was introduced to Hilda, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon, and subsequently rented a property on her estate, something that worked in his favour when he negotiated a 30-year lease of Blairfindy Lodge and its surrounding grouse moor from the Commissioners of the Crown Estate in 1947.

Before long he was able to rent two neighbouring grouse moor properties on the same Glenlivet Estate from the Crown, Strathavon and Kylenadrochit. He was able to start off with a favourable rental of #500 a year because the Crown Factor warned him that there were very few grouse as the moors had been largely untended from 1939-1945.

Indeed, during the first three years, Waddington and his keepers killed 2000 foxes. As the moor was restored to its pre-war glory, he organised it in a way whereby enthusiasts were able to hire a quality shoot for a week, rather than being there as guests of the Laird, the common practice at the time.

Among those shooting, there were American industrial giants Henry Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, as well as members of the Dupont chemical family, who were all treated to five-star-quality food and drink in the lodges as part of the deal.

His volume Grouse Shooting – Moor Management, which was published in the late 1950s, became the standard reference book on the subject. Another book, Salmon Fishing – A New Philosophy, became extremely influential, and Mr Waddington, whose prowess as an angler was renowned on the Spey, invented the Waddington Lure, a triple-hooked device with long heron feathers, still in regular use in salmon rivers worldwide.

Mr Waddington leaves a daughter, Frances, by his first wife, who died in the 1960s, and only last year saw his first great-grandson born.

Bill Mowat

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