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The Borger Color System
Post 01 Jul 2021, 14:43 • #1 
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I've just been re-reading Gary Borger's book, "Nymphs., and he says that the red-brown nymph is one he just won't be without. I've also seen another article in some fly fishing mag that speaks of a Borger Color System, and it gives the Borger color for the red-brown.

Where can I find the color system color patches, or a supplier that uses it? (Scintilla used to cross reference their colors to his, but they're out of business.)

Or maybe some of you know: is the red-brown nymph mahoghony or is it more rust? Or maybe Pheasant Tail?

Thanks. Fish on!
Peter


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Post 01 Jul 2021, 17:25 • #2 
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I just packed my Borger color reference chart. It may be a bit before I unpack it. If it’s close to the top of the pile I’ll pill it out.


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Post 01 Jul 2021, 23:52 • #3 
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he gives instructions http://www.garyborger.com/2011/05/19/red-brown-nymph-hendrickson/

Maybe you can compare with the color he uses.


Last edited by Trev on 02 Jul 2021, 05:07, edited 1 time in total.

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Post 02 Jul 2021, 00:57 • #4 
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Hi Peter, if you would like to post the BCS number, I can take a photograph of the specific colour chip for you. (If that is acceptable behavior on this forum and won't breach copyright.) Obviously the colour may vary somewhat due to differences in printing vs. cameras and monitors or screen calibration. All the best, Mike.


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Post 02 Jul 2021, 06:09 • #5 
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Gudebrod fly tying thread which I use (and have a lifetime supply of) came in a ton of colors that used BCS color numbers.

FWIW - If "reddish brown" translates to "rusty brown," the BCS number for that are BCS #63 - Light Rusty Brown, BCS #66 - Rusty Brown and BCS #65 - Dark Rusty Brown.

I have an old Pantone Color Bridge swatch book that I use instead of the Borger system since it is a more universal way to reference colors by numbers.


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Post 11 Oct 2021, 22:39 • #6 
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I used to like the Gudebrod thread as well.I still have a few spools left.Nice stuff.


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Post 12 Oct 2021, 12:02 • #7 
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Working for government contractors over my career I've used the old Fed-Std-595 colors for the past 40 years or so. Since the government has been outsourcing many things, including standards, the spec is now AMS-STD-595. The color fans aren't cheap, but here's a website that shows most, but not all, of the colors. I keep hoping that the company I work for will want to get rid of their older color fans before I retire and I can snag one. Monitor screens vary in the way they show colors so aren't considered an accurate representation.

http://ams-std-595-color.com/


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Post 12 Oct 2021, 12:52 • #8 
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Thank goodness fish can't read color charts and most likely don't give a rats arse about shades of brown... ;)


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Post 13 Oct 2021, 09:17 • #9 
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Rust. The fish don't care about a color chart. You are better off eyeballing the natural. And don't spend much time at it. Instead, watch the naturals--time of day, where they typically appear on the water, where they drift, how/if they move, where and how fish take them, and even more important, where the fish look for them. Half an hour doing that and you will never look at a color chart again. They have a use for production uniformity, just as in other industries or the graphic arts. For a hobby tyer, observation is way better. Color is a small part of it; texture, contour, bulk and so on. The natural will tell you. Even with only four or five basic body colors, much can be changed just by the tightness/looseness of the dubbing, and the use of ribbing, even just simple cotton or polyester sewing thread.


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Post 13 Oct 2021, 12:56 • #10 
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I read that Borger just used paint chip cards same as found in any paint store and the government colors are paint chips too, but neither one will state which companies paint chips they use. We could all just use Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams color charts for a lot less money.


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Post 13 Oct 2021, 18:56 • #11 
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I forgot to mention, looking at dry fly-tying materials doesn't tell much about how they look when wet, and just wetting them doesn't either. They need to be tied on the hook in a consistent manner and design, and then viewed both dry and wet. The same material will look different dry or wet depending how tied. The eye that has just looked at a natural for color, form, and motion, will tell you much more when looking at a fly design, both dry and wet. The color chart may help in a volume purchase of materials or or commerical fly order, but just isn't needed for a hobby tyer. Realize that the same species of insect in one watershed may be differently color-toned than in another. So the charted color for the pattern is still only a ballpark.


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Post 13 Oct 2021, 23:17 • #12 
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Trev wrote:
I read that Borger just used paint chip cards same as found in any paint store and the government colors are paint chips too, but neither one will state which companies paint chips they use. We could all just use Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams color charts for a lot less money.

Colors are colors and what you call them is up to you.

Crayola changed the names of many crayon colors to be politically correct, but the colors remain the same.

Color charts regardless of where the "chips" came from or whether they are an arbitrary system created by a fly fisherman or a standard used in the printing business, are just a reference number used to color match. If you use paint manufacturer chips, you still have to cross reference them to other standards so you are speaking the same language.

Bottom line, it's a lot easier to say that a color is PCS 8024-C than "sort of a medium rusty brown" and that was all Gary Borger was trying to do. He got fly tying material manufacturers to adopt his color chart which made fly recipes a lot more uniform, but the bottom line is...

...the fish don't care and unless someone is looking for an exact reproduction of a particular fly pattern, it doesn't matter there either.


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Post 14 Oct 2021, 11:42 • #13 
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Yeah that was my point but using a popular paint line instead of charging exuberant prices for an obscure listing. Crayola would make a better standard for an average tyer than the government listing. I think very few out side of government supplied water treatment users have ever seen Gary's set of colors.


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Post 14 Oct 2021, 12:39 • #14 
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Using grain alcohol to store insect samples can change their color. I don't know of anything better though.


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Post 14 Oct 2021, 14:08 • #15 
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Trev wrote:
Yeah that was my point but using a popular paint line instead of charging exuberant prices for an obscure listing. Crayola would make a better standard for an average tyer than the government listing. I think very few out side of government supplied water treatment users have ever seen Gary's set of colors.

The problem with referencing paint chips is paint manufacturers change their paint names & numbers more than Crayola changes their crayons and color descriptions are manufacturer specific so you would need a cross reference chart for every brand of paint. To be honest, only the mixing codes that the paint store uses to MAKE a particular color would be an accurate descriptor and even with that, only a paint store selling that brand of paint would have any idea what those codes meant.

That means you would have no uniformity amongst users of paint store color chips because one person may be talking Benjamin Moore while another is talking MAB and the fly tying supply retailer is talking neither.

Color charts like AMS, RGB or the Pantone bridge chart I use (I got mine for free), are very expensive, however the people who REALLY need a chart, (printers, graphic designers, government contractors and others requiring an exact color match), NEED a chart so they are willing to pay for it.

Fly tiers DON’T need a chart because "close is good enough."

The purpose of BCS is to have a system with numbers, accessible to fly tiers to make it simple to describe a shade of this or that so folks could get on the same page with a recipe...IF that matters. As far as I know, there was never a Borger Color System chart that an individual fly tier needed or was expected to purchase, you would find the color charts in catalogs.

To be honest, not a whole lot of manufacturers/suppliers adopted the system because I believe it's use meant an endorsement or consultant's fee. Gudebrod was one who did, but even though that is the thread I still use, all the BCS numbers were really good for was making sure I got what I wanted. If I looked at the chart and decided I wanted 6/0 medium olive, I ordered “015-006-0030.” If I just asked for "medium olive," I might get someone else's opinion of medium olive.

Coincidentally, as time went on before they ultimately went out of business, Gudebrod was constantly dropping shades from their line of fly tying threads because nobody really needs five shades of brown, yellow or gray thread... ;)

Here’s an old BCS chart from an old Gudebrod catalog page:



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Post 15 Oct 2021, 07:51 • #16 
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Possibly--don't remember if I ever did know--the color charts, Borger or other, were relevant for consistency in dyed lots of flytying materials. Again, that would be completely unimportant to a hobby tyer. Even if obsessed with an "exact" match, the best way to get it would be a home mix of dye.

Neat to see the Gudebrod chart. Geared to production uniformity. Makes sense that as competitive brands came in, as well as more and more out-of-USA production, total demand and demand for cosmetic distinction threads would reduce. Not to mention graphite rods that were/are usually dressed in only one or two colors.

I don't think the home tyer needs to preserve insects for the sake of tying an imitation. Typically, the more exact realism of appearance is sought, the less effective the fly. An "exact" impression in appearance and motion on/in the water is usually more effective. A close look at the fly in its natural environment is usually sufficient. With four or five colors of each basic body material (artificial dubbing, fur, yarn, and so on) you can get "close enough" or better. A low-brow little trick--I don't know if it's commonly suggested--is to have spools of cotton or polysester thread in a lot of colors. Used as ribbing, it makes a fly a tad more durable while tweaking the color impression without sparkle. Something drab, something bright, something dark, something light is the way I think of it in fixin up a handful of flies in similar size and profile.


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Post 15 Oct 2021, 08:27 • #17 
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That Gudebrod chart is great. I just picked up about 100 spools of NOS Gudebrod tying thread. Now I don’t have to open all the boxes to see what’s inside


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Post 15 Oct 2021, 11:36 • #18 
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whrlpool wrote:
...Borger or other, were relevant for consistency in dyed lots of flytying materials. Again, that would be completely unimportant to a hobby tyer. Even if obsessed with an "exact" match, the best way to get it would be a home mix of dye.

I really don't know if the Borger System ever drilled down to how much of this or that color was needed to get an exact match (like the Pantone or the RGB systems do) when dying fly tying materials, because I can tell you that there was/is hardly any uniformity between different materials or suppliers that were using the "system."

As a long time home fly tying materials dyer, I can also tell you that the only way to get consistency with colors when dying is to weigh or measure your dye portions & water or solvent and keep meticulous records of the ratios and how much of this or that color you used to achieve a shade. You also have to accept that whatever “formula” gave you that wonderful medium dun on some rabbit fur will not give you the same results on feathers.

It’s definitely NOT like mixing paint which is why you only find consistency in dyed materials when they come from the same lot.

To be honest, I bet the Borger System is nothing more than another existing color matching system, (more than likely the Pantone system since it has been around a LONG time) that Gary used to pick his colors so he had the “mixing formulas” without doing the work. In other words, he picked the Pantone colors he thought were relevant to fly tying and assigned an arbitrary BCS number to those colors in his system.

chefly wrote:
That Gudebrod chart is great. I just picked up about 100 spools of NOS Gudebrod tying thread. Now I don’t have to open all the boxes to see what’s inside

Congratulations!! What sizes & colors?

I fell in love with Gudebrod tying thread a few years before they went out of business which was just about the time they went to the smaller spool size. Fortunately for me, I don't live far from their factory and when the end was in sight, I was buying it up like a madman direct from the factory and from their main distributor (also close to me), a company called Versitex that the rod builders out there may be familiar with.

I now have over 500 spools of the stuff in all sizes and colors! ;)


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Post 15 Oct 2021, 16:47 • #19 
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Great info. I'm down to black, bright red, tan, clear, and brown, and if I can't spy one of them, I use another.


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 00:43 • #20 
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The best description of the Borger Color System (BCS) is in Gary Borger's book Designing Trout Flies (1991). He tells how in 1965 he read that a Hendrickson mayfly was the color of "urine-stained fur of a vixen red fox".* At the time his collegiate soils course used a standardized color chart. He wished for a similar color chart specifically for fly tying, but there wasn't one. So he gathered insects, tracked their colors and collected paint chips. Eventually his materials and data became the Borger Color System, first published in 1986.

I sent Dr. Borger an email and asked about the BCS. His soil class used the Munsell Soil Color Book. Albert Munsell developed the Munsell Color System in the late 1800s to define colors in a scientifically rigorous manner. Historically, Munsell's various Color Books and materials have been used in science and industry. Historically, the Color Books have been very consistent and very expensive. In his email, Dr. Borger states, "My goal was to produce a color chart that fly fishers could carry with them and use to help remember colors of the fish’s food items, so that when tying the imitations they wouldn’t have to guess the color from memory."

The Borger Color System is a short, pocket sized publication. In his email Dr. Borger says he went to a quality-oriented print house owned by a fly fisher. Getting his data translated to the printed page still meant traveling to the printer to help tweak the colors. In the 80s, compared to a Munsell Color Book or a complete Pantone Library of Colors, the little BCS was much more affordable, accessible, compact, and simple.**

The BCS was printed three times, with the last run in 1995. Since then, Dr. Borger tells me he has not found another print house to republish the book. In my opinion that's too bad. Colors are difficult to describe only with words. Of nearly 20 fly tying books on my shelves, only one has a single color plate devoted to color definitions. As noted above, quite probably the fish care far less about materials color than we do. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try to define colors in an easily communicated, accurate manner.


Tom

* We've all seen the "urine-stained vixen fur" description in Art Flick's New Streamside Guide. I grew up in suburbia. My only exposure to foxes was Disney movies. I had no clue what that phrase meant.

** With the advent of computers and the internet, some aspects of color reproduction have become better known. But color matching isn't easy. Try it for yourself https://www.xrite.com/hue-test.


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 05:18 • #21 
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Something is wrong with my computer, I moved those color blocks around without much thought and they said I had a perfect score of Zero. That can't be right for a 70+ male with cataracts?

I've never seen a BCS book, were they sold through fly shops or direct from Dr. Borger?
Don't think I've ever seen any materials marked with his system either, but by '86 I'd mostly quit buying stuff for several years, in an attempt to use up what I had. I think any thing I ever bought for flytying came in life-supply sizes.


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 06:46 • #22 
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What a great account. Borger's system and Flick's Catskill schtick. Two great ways of looking at the same thing. Science and Art meet astream. And to think at dusk the light changes.


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 08:47 • #23 
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Great info Tom!!

In my life's experiences, matching colors exactly to a recipe in a book with descriptions was something I did in my early impressionable days and I will admit finding a piece of urine stained vixen belly was an obsession. (Actually, a friend of mine gave me a piece a few years back just to shut me up).

Later in life, (when I got wiser) I matched my imitations to the naturals I encountered where I fished. Not because I believed it mattered, but because it was fun trying to get as close as possible.

However in the days before walls & walls with hooks full of pre-packaged dubbing in every color imaginable, we blended or dyed our own which was even more fun. It is somewhat ironic that today when there is all of these choices in materials & colors, we don’t use the Borger Color System.

FWIW – An adequate substitute for the elusive urine stained vixen belly is bleached raccoon or red fox.

In addition, I also grew up in suburbia but in my suburbia, foxes were what you saw on Charlie’s Angels, not Disney movies… ;)


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 08:53 • #24 
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Thank you Tom for providing that little piece of history on the relationship of the Borger Color System to the Munsell Color System. Throughout this entire discussion, I have been wondering how the Munsell system related to all of this. Having used the Munsell system to describe archaeological soils, I can tell you there is a bit of subjectivity to that system too. Many soil colors can be found to be intermediate between one chroma or another, so that it boils down to a judgement by the observer.

When you add to that the variables of light refraction, and dispersal, and variations in insect color within an insect species, it boils down to how precise does the fly color need to be? That said, I think the Borger System should be reprinted, although it might be a little pricey.

I always thought that Art Flick,s urine-stained vixen belly fur was a little over the top until I saw some of his work exhibited at one of the fly fishing museums. Still, the way I loose flies, I would not think to risk such an expensive fly on the end of my line. :)


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Post 16 Oct 2021, 09:36 • #25 
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Thanks for chiming in, archfly. I wondered about the subjectivity in practice with the system, but hadn't had a chance to ask my wife, who also studied soils. Art Flick's stuff is something to see, that's for sure. But the fox-belly, I figured sooner or later I'd get some by the accident of running over a fox when wheeling down through the Catskills to fish at night, or at dawn driving home. Luckily, I never did, and missed a lot of deer as well. I think I generalized that Hendrickson color to "pinkish yellow brownish cream." The fibers of the filter of a smoked cigarette are pretty close, but vary by brand and smoker.


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