In "Five Red Herrings," at least in the BBC TV adaptation, Lord Peter Wimsey declares at one point that he plans to "whip the burn with a cardinal."

He seems to be referring to fishing. The burn is a stream; we suppose whipping refers the motion of the fishing rod, maybe a particular technique.

But what does he mean by a cardinal? None of the usual senses of the word (a bird, a church official, a number) seem to make sense here. Is it some sort of red bait or lure?

Later on, Wimsey catches a trout, if that helps at all.

P.S. I found this line of fishing reels called Cardinal, but I have no idea whether they're old enough to be known by Wimsey.

  • 6
    Whoever voted to close as "general reference", please supply a link to the "standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information" that "definitively" answers this question. I couldn't find one.
    – LarsH
    Apr 14, 2013 at 2:41

1 Answer 1


On the Global Fly Fishing forum this question was raised on Sep 26, 2010:

I was salmon fishing last week in New Brunswick on the Mirimichi river ( no luck unfortunately) and I was talking to a older gentleman who was saying that when the fishing used to be this light he always, as a last resort threw a fly he called "The Cardinal". Lost a few years ago to a salmon. It was given to him and all he remembers about it was that it was red with yellow in it. I have been trying to find info on it but can't. Does anyone know of a salmon fly called "The Cardinal"

The answer:

The Cardinal implies that we're talking a red pattern. Everything that has to do with cardinals (clergymen, sports teams, birds) is red, and might the fly not be red also?

I dug into my books and looked for the Cardinal, and found a reference for it in Terry Hellekson's impressing Fish Flies. This encyclopedia refers you to the pattern Scarlet Ibis, which is tied like this:

Thread: red
Tail: red hackle fibers
Rib: embossed gold tinsel
Body: red wool
Hackle: red tied as a throat hackle
Wing: red bucktail
Head: red

The fly was originally a classical wet fly tied with Ibis feathers and had a feather wing. If you search the web for "scarlet ibis fly pattern" you will find several references.

Here's a link to the Orange Ibis, which is a lot like the Scarlet Ibis with a feather wing: http://donbastianwetflies.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/42/>

Here's a link to the fly named the Cardinal, still with a feather wing: http://www.flytyingforum.com/pattern7692.html

Lochs and Loch Fishing, Hamish Stuart, M.A. LL.B. London: Chapman & Hall, Limited. Scarborough: “The Angler” Office, St. Nicholas Street. 1899, p. 213, under '“Subaqueous" flies' lists:

8.The Cardinal. Tail, red ibis ; body, red ibis, ribbed with silver or gold ; wings, red ibis ; hackle, furnace.

  • Interesting find. Seems plausible. I wonder whether this fly pattern was publicly known at all.
    – LarsH
    Apr 14, 2013 at 2:31
  • @LarsH, no, I doubt, at least in Europe.
    – user19148
    Apr 14, 2013 at 2:34
  • 1
    @LarsH The Orange Ibis link refers to "the famous wet fly of the 1800′s, the Scarlet Ibis," so very likely something of the sort was known to fly-fishers; obviously Sayers didn't just make it up. But she was very fond of dropping obscure bits which very few people would recognize into her dialogue, just to give it extra colour. Apr 14, 2013 at 2:36
  • Another answer in the same thread references a different "Cardinal" fly described in Bergman's Trout. The 1st edition of Trout came out in 1938, and Five Red Herrings was published in 1931. In any case, I wouldn't doubt that there was one or more fly patterns known as "cardinal" that would be recognized by trout fishermen of the time.
    – LarsH
    Apr 14, 2013 at 2:37
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth On review, however, I find that Stuart does invoke the *demon trout, that haunts every lake retaining its legacy of the Wilderness, as an heir of the unknown that may be terrible. Each cast or any cast may bring up this demon trout. The fancy is always raising, hooking and playing him for doom and the breaking of the spell of old enchantment.” Gey fae, these anglers. Apr 14, 2013 at 14:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.