Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of 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.

Most books, and yes, even we here, bring 'new and improved' designs; however, in days long gone, fish readily accepted these creations; 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. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish them. Perhaps . . .

Part Two

Alaska Mary Ann

By J Castwell

We at FAOL hope you are enjoying this series. The format is loose; rather, that should be, very loose. Due to the nature of the subject we are attempting to cover there will be many looks to each issue. This is due in part to the information available to us at the time of publication. There may be much more written, and known, but as each issue goes on line, we will attempt to bring what we have.

This time we feature a fly from years past, that is still in use today. By that I mean, it was conceived, developed, used, and utilized as a logo by a well know fly-fishing organization. It remains as the symbol of the club to this day. The fly is in much use as it still produces as well as it did at it's inception. That fly is the 'Alaska Mary Ann.' I will now quote from the Alaska Flyfishers (AFF) book, 'Fly Patterns of Alaska,' published by Frank Amato Publications.

Alaska Fly Fishers Website

"This is the official fly of the Alaska Flyfishers. It was developed by Frank Dufresne, and several versions of the story about it's origin exist. Even Dufresne himself has been reported to have told different stories on different occasions. For many years Eskimo women in the Kotzebue area have used a small jig, called the 'Kobuk Hook,' to jig for char and sheefish through the ice. It is made from a sliver of ivory, a bent and sharpened nail, and some polar bear hair. Dufresne tried them on a fly rod and found them very effective. When he ran out of the originals, he tied a duplicate using regular fly tying materials.

According to one story, the fly was named for the Eskimo lady who gave Dufresne the 'Kobuk Hooks' and whose name was Mary Ann. This version was shown to club member Harry Geron in 1953 at Sparrevohn Air force Station by a man who claimed to have been a friend of Dufresne, who showed him how to tie it and told him it's history. For many years this has been a good pattern for virtually all predatory fish in Alaskan rivers and lakes."

From that we now go to a reference by H.H. Smedley. The source is 'Fly Patterns and Their Origins,' published in 1950 by Westshore Publications, Muskegon, Michigan. Again, I will take the text directly from the pages of the book.

"This pattern was conceived and perfected by Frank Dufresne, whose name and fame are known throughout Alaska. From southeastern Alaska to the Arctic he has fished, guided, explored and carried on his work as a naturalist for twenty odd years. During much of that time he worked in the official capacity as Fish and Game Commissioner and later with the United States Fish and Wildlife service. He is the author of 'Alaska Animals and Fishes.'

On the Kobuk River, north of Nome, in the summer of 1922 he saw the natives there fishing with an artificial bait. It was made of ivory and shaped not unlike a small modern lure. The copper hook, not barbed, had attached to it a small triangular piece of red skin from the corner of a guillenot's bill, a black eye made from whale bone was inserted at the forward end of the piece of ivory and a sparse topping of white polar bear hair was attached.

In 1929 Dufresne, for fly fishing, reproduced the lure in hair and feathers. A silver tinsel body, red tag, jungle cock eye and polar bear wing on a long shank hook and the Alaska Mary Ann came into being.

The name Mary Ann in Alaska is used to describe or refer to a girl whose name might not be known. It is an expression, used much the same as 'baby doll' was used, some years ago."

Now, from the pages of the AFF book, the recipe for the Alaska Mary Ann.

  • Hook: 4 to 6 (long shank)
  • Thread: Black
  • Tail: Red hackle fibers
  • Body: Ivory or light tan floss
  • Rib: Medium flat silver tinsel
  • Wing: White polar bear hair
  • Cheek: Jungle cock

    Tying tip: Bucktail or goat hair may be substituted for polar bear wing.

    And now yet more information on the fly. From 'Streamers and Bucktails the Big Fish Flies,' by Joe Bates 1979, page 274 we hear that the hook used was actually a 'coopers nail.' The fly got it's name from a fishing trip where Dufresne gave a few to a friend of his and he reported catching rainbows, cutthroats, Dolly Vardens and salmon. "Man, this catches 'em all; the whole Mary Ann of 'em.' And so the name was born. A 'cooper' was a barrel or keg maker.

    Bob Fairchild, tying instructor for the nearly six hundred member AFF, still carries the Alaska Mary Ann fly in his fly-fishing hat; just in case.

    You now know as much as I do about this fly. It looks good to me, think I may tie up a few; just in case too.~ JC

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