Megan Boyd

Megan Boyd, salmon fly-tier

Born: 29 January, 1915 Died: 15 November, 2001, at Kintradwell, Sutherland, aged 86

MEGAN Boyd was one of the world’s real experts in a most exacting (but sadly dying) art. Apart from being an authority on salmon flies, she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and intricacies of fly-tying. She could recall with remarkable ease their individual names and origins. Ms Boyd seemed to know instinctively which fly would be best suited on a particular loch or river and when and where. She was often asked - even by anglers who knew the Sutherland rivers well - which fly should be used on a particular stretch. Her advice, so Sutherland folklore has it, tended to start with a phrase such as "If it rained overnight ..." or "If it’s still overcast and cloud ..." Despite all her vast expertise, Ms Boyd never actually fished!

Rosina Megan Boyd, born in England and given a Welsh Christian name, came north to Sutherland at an early age. In 1918 her father was appointed a bailiff on the Duke of Sutherland’s estate and Ms Boyd was to spend the rest of her life in the county. She became a stalwart of the community around Brora and was much admired and respected.

She attended the local school, but desk learning was never her forte. Instead, by the age of 12, she was showing an ability to tie the most complex of salmon flies. She learnt much from her father and the local ghillies. That enthusiasm and her love of the surrounding countryside gave her a life-long passion for the far north of Scotland.

The local rivers were her special delight - although she had a detailed knowledge of the hundreds of hill lochs and smaller rivers in the area. it was often said that she "understood" some rivers (particularly the Naver, the Borgie, the Thurso and the Brora) better than the local ghillies: although she was too modest ever to make such a claim.

She would sit at her desk in Kintradwell diligently working at the fly she had in her clamp. The hut in which she worked overlooked the North Sea; it created a soothing (though often dramatic) backdrop to her everyday work schedule. The work was done with infinite care. She would linger over a particularly difficult fly and ensure that each feather and knot was exactly right. Ms Boyd had a delightful routine: she would balance a feather or hair on the lipstick of an open lipstick holder. Then she would delicately pick up the hairs and tie them into the base of the hook. It was an exact science and nothing was left to chance. She always maintained that the slightest imperfection in the tying could alarm the fish when it drifted in the water.

She enjoyed tying classic flies such as Durham Ranger, Stoat’s Tail, Silver Doctor, Jock Scott, etc, but she did create, for special clients, a salmon fly that has come to be called the Megan Boyd. The fly was a shrewd mixture of blue and black feathers tied either to a single hook or as a tube fly. It could vary in size depending on the weather conditions or the time of year. Many anglers maintain that when all else has failed a Megan Boyd is worth a few casts.

She was an avid supporter of various environmental committees in Sutherland. Perhaps most important to her was the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. It campaigned to arrest the annual netting of the salmon at the mouths of rivers so that the fish could swim upstream to spawn.

Fishermen used to drop in to talk to Ms Boyd, not only to purchase flies but also to pick her brains on which ones to use. Only last year, the Prince of Wales, a keen angler, and Ms Boyd had a lengthy discussion about the Popham, which happened to be one of her favourite flies.

Megan Boyd was not only an expert but also an infectious enthusiast. Her knowledge of the sport was legion and she had a host of friends. She remained active until late in life: attendances at the local ceilidhs were a particular joy for her as she was a keen Scottish country dancer. She did, in fact, officially retire in 1987 when her eyesight became impaired. It had been deteriorating for some years and working by paraffin lamp - the electricity did not reach Kintradwell until 1985 - put it under severe strain,

During the Second World War she worked as an auxiliary coastguard watching over the North Sea approaches. She was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1971.

Fishermen all over the world respected Megan Boyd for the breadth of her knowledge. But many in the Brora and Golspie area will miss her wit, intelligence and generous nature.