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 Twenty-one

Hod Connor's Ponds

By Charlie Kroll

My first really exotic angling adventure occured in 1935 when I was a freshman in high school. During the summer vacation, our parents took my younger brother Bob and me on a trip to Michigan. While there we stayed a week or so with our cousins, Redge Moll and his family, in the Upper Peninsuala village of Bruce Crossing.

Also staying with Redge that summer was his lifelong companion, Tommy Cole. Both men were dedicated outdoorsmen, Redge raised Labrador retrievers, tied trout flies professionally and, with Tommy, had worked for the Michigan Department of Conservation in predator trapping and other wildlife management programs. Both men were fly fishers. Tommy Cole was a bachelor whose home was in the iron mining town of Ishpeming. It was there that he converted another friend, John Voelker, from bait fishing to fly angling and later became one of the central figures in John's popular fishing novels (published under the name of Robert Traver).

Redge and Tommy educated me. One of the first things they did was teach me to tie flies which I took to like a trout takes to caddis. From there, they instructed me in all the art and nuances of fly fishing including the proper use of small bucktails and streamers. I soon found these to be highly effective on the brook trout of the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon, the Jumbo River, the Baltimore, the Whitefish and other nearby waters.

Finally one overcast, muggy and buggy evening in July Redge told me to get my tackle ready, that we were going to hike in to a special place. I had no idea just how special a spot it would turn out to be.

Daylight was beginning to fade as we drove from Bruce Crossing to Kenton, 20 miles to the east. Kenton is a very small village on the banks of the East Branch of the Ontonagon River, having remained quiescent since the passing of the white pine logging eara. It was here my paternal grandfather had started his career as a lumberman.

From Kenton Redge took a side road north for several miles, at one point passing over a likely looking stretch of stream that meandered through a natural hay meadow. Redge said it was called Beaver Creek, for reasons I would later see, and emptied into the East Branch a short distance away. He also mentioned that where we were going to fish had, years ago, been a favorite spot of my grandfather's. That bit of news in itself made the hair on the back of my neck rise - I was about to fish where my grandfather had fished more than a quarter of a century before.

Redge finally pulled the car over to the edge of the bush road and we started off on foot through the woods, following what looked like an old game-trail. After a 15 or 20 minute hike we could hear the sound of running water and emerged upon a scene that took my breath away. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, yet somehow seemed strangely familiar. As Yogi Berra said: "It was like deja vu all over again."

We were standing near the end of a huge beaver dam with ponds both above and below it. It dam itself was 12 to 15 feet high and almost completely sodded over with tag alder, ferns and grasses from its lattice-work of logs. It was obviously very old. The beaver had been there when grandfather and the young lad who would become my father initially saw the stream and traveled first by horse and buggy, then by shank's mare, to fish the ponds.

Climbing up on the dam I could see water backed up for at least a quarter of a mile, with many dead but still standing trees along its sides. The water was black as pitch and very deep - certainly impossible to wade. I stood transfixed, staring out over the magnificent scene. In my direct line of sight, beside a huge old white pine stump, a brook trout suddenly breached the surface. It was the biggest brookie I had ever seen and was large than any I thought ever grew.

I suddenly wanted that fish more than anything I had ever previously desired. Yet I was completely foiled, for it was beyond my casting ability and there was no way I could get closer.

As I stood there in a spellbound stupor other fish, big fish, began rolling everywhere. I heard Redge shout and turning around saw him hip deep in the lower pond and fast to a sizeable trout. He hollered something about getting my ass down there while the fish were active. I could barely make out what he said above the noise of watering flowing through the depths of the dam.

Grizzley King

Scrambling down, I waded out near him and cast a Grizzly King wet fly out among the rolling trout. Almost immediately it was taken. In my eagerness I struck too hard and lost both fish and fly.

In the time it took me to tie on another fly Redge had landed two or three lovely, deep-bodied brookies. He was fishing with two flies, a tail and a dropper, and hooked a fish of about 16 inches on the dropper. As he was attempting to subdue it, another fish hit the tail fly and that one was a real squaretail. I got a good look at it when the action surged my way. Redge later said it was a four pounder that he had encountered before and I had no reason whatever to doubt him. At any rate, the double tie-up ended in disaster as the tail fish surged one way and the dropper fish another. Something had to give and, of course, it the the larger trout that tore off. The air in Redge's vicinity turned deep purple for a moment or two.

By the time darkness settled in we had a catch of brook trout that dreams are made of. I had six and Redge had 10. None was less than a pound and a half; the largest being 20 inches and three pounds: gorgeous, dark, heavy, lantern-jawed fish whose bejewelled flanks and white-edged fins were breathtaking.

Packing our fish in creels line with wet pond-side ferns we took the trail back out through the gathering gloom, accompanied by the melancholy seven note rise and fall of a whitethroat's evening song.

I subsequently fished the ponds a few more times, on each occasion catching a few large, lovely trout but never again did I encounter a rise of fish like the one of that first magical evening.


Before the decade of the 1930s was over, a tragic end came to these ponds. Someone in the State Fish & Game Department decided that all beaver dams everywhere were ruinous to both fishing and real estate and in 1934 ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to blow out all of the dams they could find. Redge later told me the C.C.C. camp that had dynamited the Hod Connor dams had afterwards gathered many washtubs of big trout for their mess hall.

Beaver Creek is still there and still contains brook trout, although habitat destruction and the introduction of brown trout have reduced the population and the fish size from pounds to inches.

Sic transit glorie. ~ Charlie Kroll

Excerpt from Pools of Memory, The Sixty Year Odyssey of a Devoted Fly Fisherman. Published by Frank Amato Publications, Inc. Used with permission.

Archive of Old Flies

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice