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.**
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.
* 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