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-six

Fly Tying at the End of the Millennium
(Part 3)

By Chauncy Lively

In the U.S. such authors as Edward R. Hewitt and Vincent Marinaro expanded upon the material provided by Ward and Harding. To my mind the finest assessment of these matters was covered by Marinaro in Chapter 3 of his classic book, A Modern Dry Fly Code. Here he takes an otherwise dry, scientific subject and converts it into a living, breathing on-stream experience.

Reading Marinaro many years ago motivated me to build a small glass slant-tank, through which I could get a trout's underwater view of floating insects and/or fly patterns representing them. It was a revelation.

I shot many macro-photographs of both insects and fly patterns viewed from a trout's perspective. When projected onto a wide screen, the detail shown gave credence to the writings of the researchers. I was particularly facinated by a magnified cross- section of the surface film. It is a relatively thick, multilayered skin which stretches like a drumhead from bank to bank in river and lake. It allows our dry flies to float and often prevents our leaders from sinking. And it proved some of our old assumptions to be off the mark.

For example, one ancient shibolleth assured us that using stiff hackle would cause our dry flies to sit up "on their toes." Actually, flies will perform this way on a hard surface but on water the sharp points of the hackle barbs, pointing directly downward will penetrate the film, leaving the job of support to the lateral barbules. This may be observed when a hackled dry fly is dropped into a glass of water. Actually this penetration may be beneficial to such dries as tailless skaters, holding them upright on the surface and preventing rolling.

When I began tying flies immediately following World War II there was virtually no word of endangered animal species. Material suppliers stocked - and we purchased - just about every conceivable kind of animal hair, fur or plumage. They included polar bear hair, condor wing and tail feathers and dik- dik skins, among many others. I remember purchasing from E. Hille - in 1947, I believe - a condor wing primary for $1.50. It was 18 inches long and had to be cut in half to fit into the mailing carton. The individual quill fibers make wonderful segmented nymph bodies and the flue was a good representation of external gills.

Within a few years we began to recognize that many animal species were becoming endangered and sensibly, their import and sale became prohibited. But for fly tyers it wasn't the end of the world. We found substitutes and in many cases the alternatives proved equal or better than the originals. For nymph bodies I substituted goose and turkey biots. They were shorter than condor but I found I could wrap two together to cover the larger sizes.

Tying threads have moved progressively from silk to nylon to the present day poly, with strength and fineness unimagined just a few years ago, and available in every color of the rainbow. We have dubbing materials available in natural and synthetic furs, along with the ability to come up with delicate hues by mixing in a blender or coffee mill. ~ Chauncy Lively

Concluded 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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