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 ninty

Red Hackle

Red Hackle

Compiled by Deanna Lee Birkholm

Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury, has a very complete history of the Red Hackle, which may be the very first recorded fly. What follows are just a few of the selected passages from that history.

"Fly-fishing is a most ancient, and, as the ever-moderate Walton claims for it, "a most virtous pastime." We find suggestions of its pursuance by men of all stations in all times, and it may be interesting to some to know how one little fly has held its name and form from century to century.

"Empires have risen and fallen; cities been built, lived in, and crumbled to dust; continents discovered, populated, and grown old in wealth and culture; human ingenuity has conquered space, and the knowledge of new inventions has sped round the world to the aid of all men; unknown forces have been made familiar, and now light our ways, warm, feed, speak for us, and convey us where we will; but in all these strides we who fish have carried with us, and handed on and on down through the ages, the tiny "bonny red heckle."

Over two hundred years before Christ, theocritus wrote of fishing with "the bait of fallacious suspended from the rod," but failed to tell of its color or method of construction. Who first thought to substitute feathers for the delicate gauze-like wings of insects, and bind them to hooks, outlining in shape the ephemera of the streams, we do not know; but in the third century after Christ AElian writes as follows....They fasten red (crimson red) wool round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grew under a cock's wattles, and which in color are like wax...

This is our first recorded description of the "canny red heckle" so often after to be tosed with eager watchfulness into "the current's quick ripple.""

The fly shows up again in the writings of a Benedictine nun described as: "In the begynning of Maye a good flye, the body of roddyd wull and lappid abowte wyth blacke silke; the wynges of the drake of the redde capons hakyll."

"So again we record of the Red Hackle of the Macedonian fishermen. The knowledge of the old, peaceful pastime drifts on for two centuries more, and then Izaak Walton...Walton instructs his pupil Viator in the use of twelve special flies. The fourth, or the "ruddy fly," is to be used "in the beginning of May." "The body made of red wool wrapt about with black silk, and the feathers are the wings of the drake; with the feathers of the red capon also, which hang dangling on its sides next to the tail."

"Twenty-two years later, Charles Bottom wrote his treatise on "The Art of Fly-fishing," submitted it to his "Father" Izaak Walton, who affectionately approved the discourse of his adopted son." Cotton wrote the second part of the Complete Angler, with detailed explanations regarding the making of artificial flies...and the bonny red hackle appears again, under the name of Plain or Palmer Hackle and the Great Hackle.

"Times were more peaceful now, and books more frequent. The little fly held its own until two hundred years more had rolled by, and then we are given beautiful engravings of it, many of them colored by hand, and later exquisitely lithographed. In one book - A Quaint Treatyse on Flies and the Art of Artificiale Flee Making - we may see the fly itself on medallions inserted in the pages, with the materials for its construction, so that today we need not fear losing the formula. The original materials, "redde wulle and a capon's hackle," are yet used. Sometimes all the hackle is wound in at the head of the fly, when it is called simply a Red Hackle; but when the hackle is wound the entire length of the body it is "a palmer." The red coat or body of the fly suggested the distinction of soldier palmer," but either fly, the "bonny red hackle" or the "soldier palmer," can boast the oldest record of any fly known and used today."

Red Hackle
As dressed by Mary Orvis Marbury

    Body:  Red Floss.

    Rib:  Oval gold tinsel.

    Hackle:  Brown.

Credits: Quoted text from Favorite Flies and Their Histories, published by Lyons Press. Fly photo and dressing from Forgotten Flies, published by Complete Sportsman.

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