on the banks of the mighty River Erne and located in
the scenic North West region of Ireland, Ballyshannon
is one of the oldest and earliest settled towns in the
country. It is also home to the oldest fly tying firm
in the world.
almost 170 years the firm of Rogan has been designing
and dressing fishing flies for the most discerning anglers
in the world. Since 1830 the Rogan name, built on tradition,
quality, innovation and above all else, craftsmanship
has been carefully nurtured through five generations
of the family.
was Michael Rogan Senior who first brought world acclaim
to the Rogan flies. Born in 1833, he learnt the art
father, James Senior, founder of the firm. He soon showed
a wonderful aptitude for salmon fly dressing. It is
recorded that at the age of 12 he was dressing salmon
flies which were so successful that many experienced
anglers of the period would use no others.
this craft was handed down from father to son, none
of the mechanical aids developed to assist the amateur
fly dresser were ever used. The Rogan tiers remained
true to the art of hand tying and scorned the use of
a vise, of pliers, bobbin holders and tweezers. A small
pair of scissors and a needle stuck in a cork were all
that was required. Michael Senior is famously quoted
as saying that nature had provided the ideal tools for
he job in the shape of fingers! He considered this necessary
to achieve the correct amount of tension on the silk,
the hackle and the wings and to eliminate any stress
on the hook. Fingers, he said, were far more sensitive
to the pressures and strains than any steel contrivance,
no matter how well designed.
the mid-nineteenth century, the great English angling
writer Francis Francis visited Ireland on one of his
grand tours and became acquainted with Michael Seniors
work. He described his salmon flies as akin to
a piece of jewellery. This description occurs
once again in
Taverners book Salmon Fishing
of his Claret Bodies and Green Parsons were not unlike
pieces of jewellery
Senior was invited to London in the early 1870s by the
now defunct London Salmon Fishers Club to dress salmon
flies for them personally. During the next twenty years
he spent several months every year in London dressing
was invited a number of times to fish in Norway, Sweden
and Iceland by the gentlemen of the London Salmon Fishers
Club. The quality of his salmon flies brought him a
coveted Medal of Excellence and Diploma at the International
Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883.
Tradition has it that to achieve the brilliant and long
lasting colours of his flies Michael Senior used asss
urine to degrease materials before dyeing them. That
from a stallion was said to be the best for the dying
process. This was kept in a barrel at the rear of the
premises at Bridge End in Ballyshannon. Frequent complaints
from neighbours to the sanitary authorities led to many
visits from inspectors who were often sent away with
a box of flies in their pockets and little more was
heard of the matter! Old Michael reckoned that it was
only at this stage that it was ready to be used as a
super-detergent for preparation of his materials before
the many salmon flies Old Michael created perhaps his
best were the Green Parson, Rogans Fancy and the
Ballyshannon. It is also a fact that he invented the
famous Fiery Brown colour via his special dying process
which gave it a brilliance that had not been in evidence
before (and some would say has not been seen since).
He perfected a method of winging salmon flies which
caused each individual feather to react independently
of its neighbour creating a translucent lifelike effect.
his long life as a fly dresser, Old Michael made many
friends in all walks of society and many shared his
fireside in the shop in Ballyshannon to partake of a
nip of Irish whiskey and to talk of the days happenings.
On one occasion, the visitor was Edward, Prince of Wales,
and the son of Queen Victoria. Old Michael offered him
the customary draw of his clay pipe. This was accepted
but before putting the pipe in his mouth, the Royal
visitor wiped the stem of the pipe with a silk handkerchief.
He took a few pulls and returned the pipe to its owner.
Michael, with calm deliberation, broke off a couple
of inches from the stem and replaced the pipe in his
mouth, continuing to smoke it for the rest of the evening!
his lifetime, Michael Senior trained his two sons and
daughter in his art and after the old gentlemans
death in 1905 his son James inherited the business.
As the craft was handed down from father to son, they
continued to tie in the traditional method, without
use of a vise or any mechanical aids.
the early part of the 20th century, the Erne
River came into its own as one of the finest salmon
rivers in Europe and it was from the gentlemen anglers
who came to fish it that James received his business.
Continuing his fathers tradition of tying quality
custom-built flies, he was never short of customers
from the discerning fishermen of the world.
James started training his son Michael Junior in the Rogan
tradition of fly dressing, for when in 1935 he had a stroke
which led to his death three years later, young Michael
was able to carry on the business as a professional tier
at the tender age of 16.
continued to tie flies for anglers throughout the world
and at one stage in the 1960s tied exclusively for the
famous firm of Hardy Brothers of London. He married
Rita in 1941 and trained her in the craft. Sadly, in
1947, the magnificent Erne became a victim of progress
when a hydro-electric scheme destroyed the once beautiful
and famous river, but not before Michael had taken a
personal best Atlantic salmon of 30 lbs from it
on one of his own flies, of course!
anglers may be interested to note that Michaels
uncle Alexander Rogan who had been trained in the family
business emigrated to New York in the 1920s and carried
on the traditional hand-tying trade when working for
long-closed Alex Taylor tackle shop on 42nd
Street in Manhattan. Sad to say, he found he could not
keep a family on his salesmans wages, even with
the additional income from his beautiful flies and decided
to quit the business for the more lucrative trade of
barber, a skill he had acquired in the trenches during
World War I. An article about Alex Rogan by Leonard
M. Wright Jr. appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of Fly
Rogan company fell on hard times following the death
of Rita Rogan in 1987. No surviving members of the family
were able to carry on the tradition and although Michael
and Rita had trained several local women in the craft,
the company lacked direction and was almost extinct
when David and Connie Feely, a young couple originally
from the area but then living in San Francisco heard
of its plight and returned home to resurrect the business.
much heartbreak and tribulation, they finally raised
the capital and realised their dream of ownership of
one of Irelands legendary angling companies and
have pledged to continue the great Rogan hand-tying
tradition. They have chosen the name Cuileoga Rogan
for the new company which has been formed to carry on
the wholesale side of the Rogan business. Cuileog is
the Irish name for a fly, in this instance a fishing
fly, and it is in keeping that they should chose to
promote all things Irish in relation to the brand name.
The business was formally re-launched in March 1999.
new management team has developed a business plan to
take the company into the 21st century. The
old premises at Bridge End in Ballyshannon have been
sold and a new development on the Bundoran Road will
eventually house a modern tackle shop, a Rogan Museum
and an Interpretative Centre. If demand is there, the
company will consider the provision of hand-tying courses
for amateurs wishing to learn the traditional method
of tying without a vice. A new factory will be opened
in Gweedore, Co. Donegal,
where hand-tied Rogan trout and salmon flies
will be produced.