Got Silk?

Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, now replicated by Morus Silk.

by Scott Sadil

Tying up a bunch of size twelve Light Cahill Wets, a pattern Dave Hughes recommends for a close-enough imitation of Yellow Sallies, that pretty little stonefly common this time of year to rivers throughout the West, I suddenly noticed I could see the spool underneath the final wraps of my primrose-colored Pearsall’s Gossamer silk thread.


I dug through spools of thread and floss and tinsel and whatnot that gather about me this time of year as if clusters of sprouting mushrooms. A spool of “Lt. Cahill” UNI-Thread looked promising – until I tied another fly.

Yuck.  Now what? 

Of course, anybody who ties with Pearsall’s Gossamer silk, especially crotchety Old Schoolers who love their traditional soft-hackles, flymphs, and other impressionistic patterns generally fished wet, knows that silk, like peacock herl, possesses a magic all its own. Nothing else has come along to replace silk thread for inspiring confidence in a fly – at least in the eyes of anglers, if not their beloved trout.

Light Cahill Wet, a close-enough imitation of Yellow Sallies.

Most tyers also know that Pearsall’s quit the fly tying thread business some years back, and that finding their Gossamer silk has grown next to impossible, a lot tougher than locating certain paper products during stages of the current pandemic.

I put in a call to Hughes, whose book, Wet Flies, has done so much to help anglers understand the efficacy of these timeless patterns, how to tie them, and how to fish them.

Hughes is also all but a neighbor, an hour away on the interstate, close enough that we cross paths sometimes, occasionally even on the water — otherwise, I wouldn’t dare call a famous fishing writer out of the blue.

The good news, reports Hughes, is that Morus Silk, in the UK, is now producing – “from the cocoon” – a superfine silk thread that replicates Pearsall’s gossamer silk, with the very same Pearsall’s colors, matched through spectrophotometer analysis at their West Yorkshire dye house. Better still, the Morus superfine silk is available this side of the Atlantic through Gunpowder Custom Tackle, a shop out of Colorado, easy to find online.

Since the disappearance of Pearsall’s, other silk tying threads have become more readily available, as well. YLI and Semperfli silk thread might not have the cachet of Pearsall’s, but perhaps the trout won’t notice. Ephemera, made in France since the 19th century, is often compared to Pearsall’s; Spanish fly tyers in the Río Curueño valley, above León, are said to have always had this silk on their tying desks.

Over the phone, Hughes offered to loan me a spool of primrose Morus silk until I got my order from Colorado. I declined, went back to work on my Light Cahill Wets. Whip finishing a head, I felt bobbin and spool fall to the floor after the thread’s bitter end slipped free.  

I phoned Hughes again; no sign yet, anyway, of Yellow Sallies. We made a date to go shad fishing, instead.


Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, recalls the delight he felt seeing his first caddisflies on the water and realizing they looked just like the hairwing flies he had recently learned to tie.