Welcome to Just Old Flies

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 todays 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?

Part One hundred fourty-two



Tied by John McBride, compiled by Deanna Birkholm

John McBride says, "This is one of my family's handed-down versions of Charles Cotton's Trout Fly patterns from the 5th edition of the Complete Angler, using newer materials of course."

Charles Cotton Owl - Dressing as shown

    Body:   White, thin, and very small.

    Wings:  Medium dun gray.

Owl Fly from the original: June, from the twelfth to the four-and-twentieth, late at night. Dubbing for the body made of a weasel's tail. Wing of white/grey.

Charles Cotton

"Charles Cotton was a teenager during the Civil War, and was nineteen when the King was executed at Whitehall. He seems to have had a liberal education, and it is thought that he went to Cambridge. He was familiar with French and Italian as well as the Classics. He was well educated, handsome and a great dinner companion, prized for his wit and conversation, though he could also be quarrelsome and something of a firebrand. He married his cousin Isabella Hutchinson in 1656, when he was 26. Two years later, on the death of his father, Charles inherited the estates of Beresford and Bentley, which are on the Staffordshire and Derbyshire border. The river Dove flowed nearby and it was here that he learnt to fly fish. He published his first piece the same year, a panegyric celebrating the coronation of Charles II. In 1664 he published a burlesque titled Scarronides, a popular and slightly pornographic work which ran to 14 editions. His wife died in 1670, leaving him with three sons and five daughters, but he married again five years later, to the widow of the Earl of Ardglass, a match which may have been an attempt to restore his fortunes, which had declined alarmingly under the pressure of his lifestyle.

After the restoration, Cotton divided his time between London and Beresford, receiving a commission in the King's forces. We do not know how he met [Izaak]Walton, although the latter grew up in Staffordshire and there is some evidence that Cotton was known to Walton many years before their collaboration on the Compleat Angler. Cotton certainly fished with Izaac Walton a great deal in later years, and built a fishing house on the banks of the Dove, the work being undertaken in 1674 (the hut still stands, despite rumours to the contrary). Cotton and Walton's initials were carved into a stone set above the door, below the inscription piscatoribus sacrum. At Walton's request, Cotton wrote his celebrated second part of the Compleat Angler two years after the completion of the fishing house. The work was the first detailed treatise on fly fishing, appearing in the fifth edition of the Compleat Angler, and has on the title page the same monogram as the one set above the door of the fishing house itself. Walton was 83 in that year; it isn't clear whether he ever mastered fly fishing, and it is quite likely that his days on the Dove were spent dapping live Mayfly.

Cotton's Gravestone Besides being a fly fisherman, Cotton wrote some fairly bawdy poetry (the years haven't treated it kindly, and it would hardly raise an eyebrow if posted on the Internet these days), translated various books from the French, and wrote The Compleat Gamester (1674). His poetry continued to be popular throughout the eighteenth century and some was addressed to Walton. [You can read one of Cotton's poems in our Lighterside/Poet's Creek section.]

Cotton's later years were marred by financial difficulties. He petitioned Parliament twice to sell parts of his estate and although his literary efforts continued, his income from published works was insufficient to allow him to make ends meet and he had to sell Beresford Hall in 1681. He is buried in St. James' church, Picadilly."

Credits: Quoted text and drawing of Cotton from www.flyfishinghistory.com/ ( Dr. Andrew N. Herd), Photo of gravestone, by David Conway, fly photos from http://flytyingworld.com. ~ DLB

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