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?

Parker's Perils
The Yellow and Red Perils

After M. E. McCausland, 1949, Fly Fishing in Australia and New Zealand

By Alan Shephard, Australia

It took until 1975 before the Matuka style fly became popular in the USA and the rest of the world. A 'Streamer' (historically, belonging to the American East Coast), is basically a fly with saddle hackle feathers tied in at the head only. A 'Matuka' is in theory, the same fly with feathers stripped in a particular way but bound to the shank, usually with wire. The binding of the feather to the shank reduces the built-in motion of the fly, so when fishing a 'Matuka,' you will not have the same liveliness of a streamer unless you impart more action to the fly. Nevertheless, the 'Matuka' style flies have their own unique qualities, the fish seem to like them, that's for sure.

Some suggest it was one of the many Maori anglers who first tied the first 'Matuka.' Necessity is the mother of invention and it may be that the person who made the first 'Matuka' style fly, may have done so for a purpose. That purpose being to eliminate the problem of the long hackle wing twisting around the gape of a hook while casting.

Mr. Alfred Henry Chaytor was born on a sheep station in New Zealand's South Island. At the age of fifteen he set sail for schooling England. In 1910 he published the angling classic, Letters to a Salmon Fishers Sons published by Methuen of London. He was working as a solicitor when the First World War broke out. Invalided by war service in 1916, fighting in France, he returned home to New Zealand for convalesce. His health soon improved and a dose of outdoor air and North Island sunshine was prescribed. Obeying Doctors orders, he fished around Lake Tarpo and Rotorua as his health improved.

Some fourteen years later in 1930 he wrote, Essays Sporting and Serious, published by Methuen of London. In this Chaytor mentions the early 'Matuka' he had seen at Lake Tarpo. I quote:

'a thin red body with a long over wing of mottled buff-brown bittern's feather, called the Matuka, the Maori name for the bittern. These flies were dressed by a good fisherman, who had the luncheon room at Hamurana...The body is thin, and either red or light blue, and is dressed on a hook about an inch long; the wing is very narrow, and about an inch and a half long and there is no hackle, merely body and wing. The long thin mottled buff wing of bittern's feather is supposed to represent one of the small 'inanga', a local fish something resembling tiny loaches but swimming about in a jerky way, and great numbers of them could be seen in the shallows around the lake.'

The Matuka

Australasian Bittern - Botaurus poiciloptilus

Bittern feathers have irregular barred markings, which when wet, give a fly a similar appearance to one of the small fish. The 'Matuka' manner of dressing also gives the fly a very fishy appearance, the top of the wing characterising a dorsal fin. The actual feather fibres are soft and mobile, giving the fly a natural living look. The bird's plumage is so thickly packed that from one skin, several hundred flies could be produced.

The original 'Matuka' was in general use back before the First World War and even then the Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus was strictly protected. Gradually as attitudes to wild life changed, a great number of 'Matuka' variations began to develop, the 'Parsons Glory' (Phil Parsons 1930) being one of the most famous. Parsons used rooster feathers with irregular barred markings. The fly met the approval of trout and today, the use of rooster feathers is still a feature in many New Zealand 'Matuka' designs.

In the early part of the last century, Australian fly anglers used many 'Old English' fly patterns. Many of these patterns called for feathers that were not available in Australia. Imported feathers were expensive, so to save money, every single imported feather was used and often the bigger hackles were clipped back. More locally obtainable feathers were often substituted and also, various feathers were dyed.

It is unknown how or exactly when in the 1920's the 'Matuka' made its way to Australia. These were tough times, many families kept chickens in a 'chook-house' in the back yard for a constant supply of eggs. Feathers from 'chooks' were ideal for making 'Matuka' style flies. Fishing and hunting were more that just sport, they were a way to help feed the family.

Almost always in nature, the male of the species is much more beautiful, alluring and showy, but rooster feathers are stiff, impairing less action to the fly than the more drab looking hen feathers. The use of hen feathers for wings, instead of cock, seems to be an Australian feature. Whether or not this was done purposely, so as to give the fly a more lifelike action is unknown. It may have been a happy accident; hen feathers from the 'chook house' would have been very convenient. As this style of fly, using hen feathers became common, so too did the Sunday roast chicken dinner for local fly dressers?

The best of the Australian 'Matuka' flies would be, the Red and Black (unknown) the 'Green Matuka' (Dick Wigram) and the two 'Parker's Perils,' the 'Red' and the 'Yellow Perils' (Critchley Parker).

Critchley Parker was a founder of Melbourne's Herald and Sun newspapers. In 1937, in the publication, 'Tasmania - The Jewel of the Commonwealth', he writes:

'I believe that a great proportion of the flies generally in use can be made from the dyed feathers of the cock bird known as the white leghorn. I will admit at once, though, that you must to be properly equipped have feathers from the peacock and the golden pheasant. The hawk, the shag and the crow are very useful. The deep orange, the vivid scarlet and the purples are necessary for the Purple Emperor, and the combination of yellow and scarlet from which I make Parker's Yellow Peril... I invented the combination and mixed the dyes for this now popular fly and Mr "Wattie" Williams and Mr Gerald Beauchamp had the first two I made. They were mainly responsible for the Yellow Peril's popularity. That was eight years ago. I have several letters which I treasure, from professional fly tiers, asking for information as to the pattern and colours.'

In Dick Wigrams 1938 book, Trout and Fly in Tasmania published by Sydney, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Dick states, and I quote:

'Another very successful fly, in use all over the Great Lake, is a red and yellow matuka known as the Yellow Peril. Its originator, Mr Critchley Parker, of Melbourne, who has fished at the lake for forty years or more, was kind enough to make known this lure to the angling public.'

It is unknown just how the feathers were dyed. In the very early days much before 'Parker's Yellow Peril' of feather dying, kitchen products were often used, turmeric as a yellow dye and cochineal for red.

In M.E.Mc Causland's book, Fly Fishing in Australia and New Zealand, 1947, published by The Specialty Press Limited, there is a reference to dying of feathers. I quote:

"Dissolve the amount of dye required in boiling water and immerse the feathers. Keep the water simmering, but not boiling and after the feathers have been in for a few minutes add a desert-spoon of vinegar. Keep the feathers immersed until the required colour is obtained and then remove them and place in a paper bag; screw up the mouth of the bag and place near a fire or gas stove. They will quickly dry in this way, but if allowed to dry slowly will loose a little of their lustre."

Yellow Peril (Critchley Parker)

    Hook: Size # 6 -10 down eye, wet fly hook.

    Thread: Black.

    Rib: Oval gold tinsel.

    Body: Yellow wool or suitable substitute.

    Wing: Two scarlet and two yellow dyed hen feathers stripped to fit shank matuka style, concave side facing inwards. The two scarlet feathers are together on the inside.

    Head: Black and well formed.

    Comment: The Red Peril is exactly the same but it has a body made from red wool or suitable substitute. The choice of two patterns gave the angler a choice of pattern for different conditions.


    1. Start fly as normal and wrap thread to rear of hook tying in some oval gold tinsel to rib the wing later.

    2. Dub wool or suitable substitute material forming the body leaving plenty of room at the head of the hook to tie in the wing and finish off the fly.

    3. Find 4 matching hackle dyed feathers, two of each. Length is subject to personal taste but about two times the length of the hook shank should be right. Tie in these feathers at the head of the fly.

    4. Now use the wire rib to secure the rest of the wing to the top of the body. This is the most important step in making the fly. The wing must be flat along the shank and vertical. Use your fingers to separate and spike the feather fibres to make a small window to wrap the rib through and try to keep the rib vertical over the body, spiral the rub forward under the body not over the wing. Make as four or five wraps to secure the wing and then tie off the rib. ~ Alan Shepherd

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