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?

Mrs. Simpson

By Alan Shepherd, Australia

In 1936 King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American, wished to marry. Because Mrs. Simpson was divorced, with two husbands still living, the English government took the view that she could not be Queen. The then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, had the duty of informing the King that popular opinion would be opposed to such a marriage. King Edward was also warned that the resignation of the government was a possibility. On 16 November 1936, the King announced that he would renounce the throne. The press had a field day, but to cut a long story short, Edward VIII succeeded to the throne in January, 1936.

At this time the 'Killer' style trout fly was developed and a name was required. To a trout, the fly is very attractive; it's a fly worth having; a fly that would merit a trout giving up its kingdom for, hence the 'Mrs. Simpson' trout fly was christened.

The fly is dressed in the 'Killer' style, a distinctive way of fly dressing in which feathers (usually 'spade' shaped breast feathers) are tied flat on both sides flanking the hook in a streamer fashion. Both New Zealand patterns; Mrs. Simpson and the Hamill's Killer (Bill Hamill) were some of the earliest flies dressed on this style. Other well known early flies in this style include a South African pattern, Walker's Killer, and the American fly, the Hornberg (Frank Hornberg).

As with all flies tied in the 'killer' style, the number of feathers utilised depends on the hook size. For sizes #8 to 12 hooks, only 4 feathers, two on each side tied in at the head. As the hook size or shank length increases, so too does the number of feathers needed. For sizes # 6 to 8 flies, 8 feathers are used, two pairs at the head and another two pairs at the midpoint of the hook shank. The big flies on sizes #2 to 4 hooks will require 3 pairs of feathers along each side. That's 12 feathers per fly, two pairs at the head, two pairs 1/3 of the length down the hook and another two pairs 2/3 of the length down the hook shank.

Whatever the size of the fly, all the pairs of feathers should be matched and dressed concave sides facing inward. Picking feathers from a whole skin is the only way to go; this is because the feathers can easily be picked and matched. As you can imagine these flies are very difficult, fiddly and time-consuming to make. Just matching and stripping the base of each feather takes quite some time.

Just what this fly is taken by trout for is difficult to say. It supposably imitates a small fish, or a frog, or even a dragonfly. The fly can be fished near the surface, or deeper using an intermediate line with a slow figure of eight retrieve. Weighted versions are also good fished deep. Because it is a big fly it can also be stripped fast. In South Africa the Mrs. Simpson apparently does well when the fish are feeding on small insects. In Australia and New Zealand the Mrs. Simpson is a highly regarded fly for both rainbow and brown trout.

Mrs. Simpson
(unknown origin, several claimants from NZ's North Island)

    Hook: #2 to 12 - 3X long shank.

    Thread: Black 6/0.

    Tail: Black Squirrel.

    Body: Red or Yellow wool, floss or chenille.

    Wing: Rump feathers of the male ringneck pheasant. Often the church window feathers are used instead of the rump feathers.

    Head: A well-formed varnished black head.

Note: This method is for dressing a size #6 hook, using 4 pairs of feathers. If weight is required, it can be wrapped onto the shank before beginning the fly.


    1. Tail of squirrel or possum fur is tied onto hook, the tail is usually kept short and fairly thick. Optionally a tag of golden pheasant tippets is sometimes tied in along top of tail.

    2. A rear body section is formed approx one third down the hook shank in length and tied from wool, floss or chenille. Different patterns call for different colours but red (night) and yellow (day) are most popular.

    3. Two matching feathers are chosen for the rear of the fly. The paired feathers are tied on each side of the hook, taking care to keep them touching at the top and slightly splayed at the bottom, tent shaped when viewed from the rear of the fly. The secret to all 'Killer' style flies is to ensure the feathers lay flat and even along the body, otherwise the fly may have a tendency to spin. Therefore in order to keep the wings flat when casting, the body is made thin.

    4. The front body section is now formed approx half the shank in length. Remember to keep it slim so that the feathers don't bulge out.

    5. Four feathers, which are all more or less of same size and shape, are chosen for the front body of the fly. When laid against body at the tie in position, the feathers should be slightly shorter than the existing hind body to give a slight tapering effect. Tie them in two to each side, again slightly splayed top to bottom.

    6. Tie off a neat head, whip finish and apply head cement. ~ Alan Shepherd

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