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 fifty-eight

Mickey Finn dressed by John Alden Knight

Mickey Finn

Compiled By Deanna Birkholm
Fly above dressed by John Alden Knight, lower fly dressed by Marcelo Morales


"Jungle cock cheeks are not called for on the official version, although they frequently are used. In Canada, the fly is dressed with feathered wings, by adding to the tinseled body a long but narrow tail of a section of a red goose feather, a yellow hackle throat and a wing, extending to the end of the tail, of married sections of yellow, red and yellow goose wings. The wing is a double wing and is long but narrow. The Mickey Finn also can be dressed as a marabou streamer by substituting for the wing, two yellow marabou tips and by adding shoulders of red saddle hackles, as long as the marabou. Jungle cock cheeks also are added in this dressing.

This fly was an unnamed and relatively unknown pattern until Mr. John Alden Knight, angler and author of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, popularized it in his writings. The story of its introduction is quoted from letters to the author from the principals, Mr. Knight says:

"In the spring of 1932, when I was living in Rye, New York, I was invited to fish the waters of a trout club a short distance out of Greenwish. My host, Junior Vanderhoff, gave me a small bucktail which he had found most effective for catching stocked squaretail trout from this little stream (the Mianus River). It delivered the goods that day; in fact, it was the only fly that did so.

I learned from Mr. Vanderhoff that this fly was one of a series of six small ducktails in various color combinations which were at one time put out by William Mills and Son. Then, the fly was know only as the Red and Yellow bucktail. I used the fly for a couple of year quite successfully."

In his travels, John Alden Knight had several occasions when this fly, now called the Assassin caught more fish than any others used. In the fall of 1937 Mr. Knight wrote a story for Hunting and Fishing, about the Mickey Finn, (now re-named from Assassin) and the producers, (The Weber Company) took for an ad in the same issue featuring the fly. John Alden Knight is also the person who developed the Solunar Tables in 1930.

According to Dick Surette's Trout and Salmon Fly Index, The Mickey Finn is "A very durable fly that will take trout, salmon, bass and just about anything that swims."

"The magazine appeared on the news stands when the Sportsmen's Show was on in New York. In the space of two days not a single copy of Hunting and Fishing Magazine could be found on the New York news stands. I suppose that the name and the flashy colors struck the public fancy. In any event the fly tiers at the show were busy for the entire week tying Mickey Finns. Each night bushel baskets of red and yellow bucktail clippings and silver tinsel were swept up by the cleaning crew at Grand Central Palace, and by Friday of that week not a single bit of red or yellow bucktail could be purchsed from any of the New York supply houses. It was estimated that between a quarter and a half million of these flies were dressed and distributed during the course of that show. How accurate that estimate is I have no way of knowing but I do know that almost everybody encounter in the aisles had a Mickey Finn stuck in his hatband . . .

Mr. Gregory Clark . . . adds this: "A day to two after I named the fly the Assassin I recollected a story that recently had been published in Esquire Magagine about how Rudolph Vanentino had been killed by Mickey Finns adminstered to him by the resentful waiters of New York and Hollywood and I rechristened the fly the Mickey Finn. All we did up here was to make it respectable and legitimate and to give the nameless waif an honest name."

Dressed by Marcelo Morales

Mickey Finn as dressed by John Alden Knight

    Head: Black.

    Body: Medium flat silver tinsel.

    Ribbing: Narrow oval silver tinsel.

    Wing: A very small bunch of yellow bucktail, over which is a very small bunch of red bucktail, which a bunch of yellow bucktail equal in size to the first two bunches over this. (In dressing this fly correctly, it is important to note that the lower yellow band and the red band are of the same size, but that the upper yellow band is about twice the size of the lower.)

~ DLB

Credits: Text and dressing from Streamer Fly Tying & Fishing,by Joseph D. Bates, Jr. Published by Stackpole Books. Second photo Marcelo Morales dressing from Forgotten Flies, published by Complete Sportsman.

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