Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than today's modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.
Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps?
... A first Lady of the Vice
Nestled in Michigan's Manistee National Forest and only 30 minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan, the quiet town of Baldwin caters to sportsmen of all types; hunters, fishermen, canoeists, campers and snow-mobilers. The town is blessed with its proximity to dozens of lakes, and at least four major trout, salmon and steelhead rivers; the blue ribbon fisheries of the Pere Marquette, the Manistee, the Little Manistee, and the Baldwin. Baldwin is home to several sporting goods stores, fishing lodges and guide services.
Like so many Michigan cities, this quiet town was spawned by the logging industry back in the 1870's. When the forest industry waned, around the turn of the century, many small villages became ghost towns, and are now nothing more than a reference intersection on the map. Baldwin, with a relatively stable population of a little over 1100 people, was and is a survivor. It is here, in this small sporting village that Josephine chose to spend her adult life.
Born Josephine Frances Hubka, on January 25, 1918 in the small town of Walker, Michigan is where Josephine grew up. She graduated from Central High School in Grand Rapids and soon went to work for the near-by Globe Knitting Works. She met and fell in love with Edward Sedlecky, who maintained the equipment for the same company. They were most probably married around 1938 or 1939 and set up housekeeping at the family owned Wolf Lake cottage, just a few miles north of Baldwin. It was here that her husband Ed introduced Josephine to hunting, fishing, and trap and skeet shooting and probably, fly tying.
During World War II Ed Sedlecky was classified 4F due to an auto accident he had as a young man so he went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corp. In April of 1944, Ed and Josephine purchased an abandoned gas station in Baldwin. He left her there, with two young children (Ken and Carol) to start a sports shop while he returned to finish out his tour with the CCC. These were not easy times and the 'city fathers' were not very happy with the unheard-of practice of a woman trying to start a business. Nonetheless, when Ed returned in 1945, "Ed's Sport Shop" was up and running.
The shop, with attached living quarters was a full service sporting goods store. Not only did Ed and "Jo," as her friends called her, provided a complete line of hunting and fishing equipment but they also provided, gunsmithing services, canoe rentals, float trips, and complete guide services. The store was open from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM, 364 days a year. Their own children worked in the store when they were old enough, along with other relatives, friends and many of the town's people. Anyone who worked for Ed's Sport Shop was considered part of the family. When meal time came around, Jo would not only feed her family but also their employees.
Josephine was an accomplished sportsman. She was an avid hunter of deer, pheasant, partridge, duck and woodcock. In the late 1960's she killed the largest recorded tom turkey in the Baldwin district, weighing in at 22 pounds with an 11 inch beard. She enjoyed fishing of all types but had a special fondness for trout and salmon fishing. She was as accomplished with a fly rod as most any of her male counterparts. Her prowess on the trap and skeet range was considerable, having won multiple local, state and regional championships. She was one of the top skeet shooters in Michigan. In 1975 she organized and hosted the first 'ladies-only' skeet shooting event ever held in the United States.
Jo was not only the proprietor of the store, and an accomplished sportsman but was highly active in the community as well. She not only provided summer jobs for many of the town's students but, served as an elected member of the local school board and served on the board or directors for the local bank. By all accounts Jo was a warm, friendly, person with a great sense of humor. She was one "terrific" person!
Of all her accomplishments, she is best remembered as a fly tier. When she opened the shop in 1945, she began her career as a professional tier. She tied flies for 47 years until her retirement in 1992. During that time she conceivably tied as many as 500,000 flies. Her flies were highly prized by fishermen, at the local, national and international level. She not only tied all the standard patterns of the day, but actually created dozens of original patterns that became very popular because of their durability and fish-catching ability. Most of the patterns are lost to history, but some have survived and are still tied and used today. Jo developed and tested her own fly patterns, rejecting those that were not great producers of fish.
Jo, an, 'old school tier', had a very distinctive methodology to her tying. When creating flies she had materials that she favored, along with favored wing and tail styles that she preferred to use. She used a traditional 'one continuous thread' technique and she always waxed her own thread. Many people believe that she tied all of the flies in the store. The truth of the matter is that if her employees had tying skills she put them to work at the bench. When the 1970's came along and synthetic materials started to become the fashion, she refused to tie with them. Her shop did however contain the newer style patterns, but they were commercially ordered. However, the flies that she created and tied would always remain the desired favorites of her customers.
Jo was so busy at the bench and with the store that she never took on any tying students. She did however; spend some time with an employee of hers by the name of Randy Bartlett, who was an established commercial artist. He grasped the concepts and techniques rather quickly and did not require a great expenditure of time on Jo's part. There was also a couple from South Africa who Jo spent a few weeks with, teaching them basic tying skills and supplying them with enough basic materials to take back with them, to get them started
Josephine and Ed were divorced in 1966. As part of the divorce degree Josephine retained the shop. For the next 19 years she continued to run the shop and tie flies. Under her ownership the shop became the de facto fly fishing headquarters for the region. In 1985, Jo married Ainsley (Ains) Borsum, an old family friend. Together they ran the shop until their retirement in 1992.
Over her many years of tying, Josephine Sedlecky-Borsum's flies became so famous, that she was honored in 1987 by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage produced outdoors on the National Mall in Washington. For a period of two weeks each summer cultural exemplars are invited to attend. The festival typically draws over a million visitors. Jo was invited to attend this June-July festival. A stage like replica of her Baldwin store was recreated which contained many of her decorations and items that hung on the walls of her shop. For the duration of the festival she demonstrated her fly tying skills for the admiring crowds of observers. She chose to tie four flies for the exposition: the Adams and three of her own creations, including the Lady Jo Caddis, the Top Hopper and the Tan Fury. Reportedly, Josephine is the only fly tyer in America to ever be invited to the Smithsonian.
Josephine, shop owner and tier, after 47 years, turned over the reins in 1992 to the new owner, Mr. Douglas Loomis. To this day Mr. Loomis owns and operates 'Ed's Sports Shop', located at, 712 Michigan Avenue, Baldwin, Michigan.
Just three years after her retirement Josephine Sedlecky-Borsum passed away on January 21, 1995 while visiting her daughter Carol in Tallahassee, Florida.
See you on the water…..
Tom Deschaine is a retired biology teacher from Westland,
Michigan. He is a fly tyer, amateur historian and free lance
writer. He maintains a web site dedicated to old Michigan
dry flies. ~ www.michigandryflies.net ~
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