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-five

Fly Tying at the End of the Millennium

By Chauncy Lively


The history of fly tying has been characterized since its very beginning by periods of explosive energy followed by spells of quiescence. Possibly the most active juncture began in the mid-1800s in England when interest in the dry fly began to gain momentum. Spurred by the sight of trout rising to floating insects, anglers would bend on a fresh wet fly and cast it upstream in hope it would alight so softly that the surface film would keep it afloat for a few seconds. Sometimes the ruse worked and when it did the rising trout would often take the fly. But it was a hit and miss proposition and it wasn't until Halford and others worked out a method of winding hackles collar-style, bristling at right angles to the hook's shank, that dry flies became consistant floaters. Then the dry fly movement took off like gangbusters.

Fly dressers sought to produce flies that mimicked nature as closely as possible. "Exact imitations" became the goal and a vast array of materials was tried experiementally to achive that end. Someone even tried to fashion mayfly wings cut to shape from fish scales - presumably those of a carp.

The popularity of the dry fly on the chalk streams of England led to a virtual cult following. Meanwhile, on the banks of the Itchen - not far from the Test - G.E.M. Skues was proving that effectiveness of nymph fishing and he soon acquired a considerable following of true believers. Eventually, battle lines were drawn and a virtual war was waged between advocates of the floater and promoters of the sunken fly. In the autocratic scheme of British angling at that time, it was no surprise that some clubs would permit the use of only the dry fly - fished upstream - on their waters.

It wasn't long before Skues was banished from his beloved Itchen and was obliged to take a rod on the Nadder. Although he complained bitterly about his new chalk stream, it produced larger trout for him than had the Itchen. Eventually, cooler heads began to prevail and the ridiculous controversy ground grudgingly to a halt with no apparent winners on either side.

In America wet fly fishing had been the order of the day and when word of the new dry fly drifted across the Atlantic it was received with enthusiasm. Theodore Gordon began to correspond with Halford, Marston, Skues and others gleaning much information from these pioneers. Gordon was subsequently provided with samples of the new British flies and from these he adaped his own versions for the faster-floating streams of his experience. His dry flies were sparser than those of the British, with slender bodies, stiffer hackles and often dressed with split wings of rolled wood duck breast feathers. Thus was the Catskill style born and its use still persists today. ~ Chauncy Lively

More next time. Chauncy's article appears in the Spring Issue of the RIVERWATCH, the quarterly publication of the Anglers of the AuSable, Grayling Michigan. FAOL is proud to be a member of this fine organization, dedicated to the protection of the AuSable River, its watershed and environs. Dues are $25 per year. For membership contact:
The Anglers of the AuSable
403 Black Bear Drive
Grayling, Michigan 49738
and visit their website!

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