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 eighty-one



Compiled by Deanna Lee Birkholm

William B. Mershon, born in 1856 and an early lumberman in Michigan, is the man after whom this fly was named. He fished the streams of Michigan when they were filled with graying, when streams had fish and fishermen were few.

He is the author of Passenger Pigeon 1907, and Recollections of My Fifty Years Of Hunting and Fishing, 1923.

Mr. Mershon's home was in Saginaw, Michigan. [The Mershon Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the first TU Chapter was named for him, in 1958. Both JC and the LadyFisher were members of that chapter.]

As to the fly, I quote from a letter from Mr. Mershon to me, dated February 10, 1942:

"The Mershon fly originated from the old Mowry, which was made of a turkey wing, and it was, I though, not bright enough, so I wrote to Wm. Mills & Son, New York, and asked them to tie some flies for me with a black silk body and wings feathers from a mallard drake, leaving the tip of white thereon. They did so, and afterwards I had Mills have some tied with a white body, and the white bodied Mershon proved to be more attractive than the black bodied. I used this fly with great success on the Black River, many years ago.

George Morley and I were fishing that stream from our camp at what we called 'Camp Higgins.' We'd been driven in from Vanderbilt with horse and wagon. George King was our driver and pilot. The getting in and getting out places were familiar to him and we knew nothing about the stream. It was wonderful brook trout fishing. George and I made a 10" limit that day and we had what was legally allowed, by midafternoon - fifty fish each. I remember I had one brook trout 16" long in the basket. We had brought a lot of ice, so by taking good care of our fish we were able to bring them home. Later on, a logging railroad was built in to the Black River and we used to go up there with the old private car 'Mershon,' with a party of a half dozen, and spend several days. In 1903 I took the last grayling that I ever got from that stream. That was the end of this grand fish - the Michigan grayling.

My favorite trout stream was the North Branch of the Au Sable, where I began fishing fifty years ago. It was the greatest trout stream in the world, and still would be if it had not been allowed by the power that be to fill up with silt. This silt used to be swept out in the old lumber days by the flooding from Dam 3, which occurred, during the summer, several times a week. The water would rise fully two feet, down as far as Lovell's and it swept this silt before it and left the spawning beds clean. There is no caddis fly hatch there, any more. As all the old logs and roots are buried, there is no place for the attachment of the shell of the larvae."

Mr. Mershon was secretary of the Michigan Sportsmen's Association in 1882."

    Mershon (White)
    As tied by Ray Bergman

    Tail:  Golden pheasant.

    Body:  White silk.

    Hackle:  Light brown.

    Wing:  Dark Blue, white-tip.

    Mershon (Black)
    As tied by Ray Bergman

    Tail:  Black.

    Body:  Black silk floss.

    Hackle:  Black.

    Wing:  Dark Blue, white-tip.

Credits: Information and recipe from Fly Patterns and Their Origins, by Harold Hinsdill Smedley, photos from Forgotten Flies.

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