“Smuts — I welcome smutting trout.” So writes J.C. Mottram in his book Thoughts on Angling. I don’t have the book, but I do have Syl Nemes’ second edition of The Soft Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles. In that book, Nemes devotes a chapter to Mottram and his collection of soft-hackled smuts. (“Smut” is a colloquial British term for a very tiny fly, such as a midge, and trout that are “smutting” are delicately feeding on those miniature bugs.)
There are six Smuts listed by Nemes. I’ve only tied one, the Number 1 (shame on me for not exploring further). I revisit it today because I happened to have Nemes’ book out, and this is a great time of year to fish midges. (Midges are a major, consistently available food source for trout in the winter.) I’ve mostly fished Smut Number 1 as a dry fly, but I’ve also used it subsurface. The wise winter nymph angler will no doubt want to include this tiny soft hackle as the top dropper in their nymph rig.
Nemes includes a photo of the Smut Number 1, and it bears only a faint resemblance to what I tie. His looks like the body is entirely constructed of working thread; mine uses the specified wool. (UNI makes a nice wool yarn thread on a spool.) His hackle is wound wingless wet style, covering the front third of the body; mine is wound at the head. I suspect the wingless wet style would be very appealing to trout. Worth the price of admission alone is the blank stare you’ll get from the angler who will inquire, as you hook trout after trout, what fly are you using? “Smut Number 1,” is your response. Soak in that moment. And here it is, J.C. Mottram’s Smut Number 1.
Hook: TMC 100 18-22
Thread: UNI Black 8/0
Abdomen: Black wool
Thorax: Black wool
Hackle: Long white