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?

Emerson Hough Bucktail
The First Spun Deerhair Fly - for Bass

Compiled by Deanna Lee Birkholm

"Bass-fishing history has more to do with the development of suitable artificials than it does with anything else. The flies and bugs typical of bass fishing are about the only things, save the environs where they are sought, that set off bass fishing as an endeavor separate from other types of fly fishing. This however, is not insignificant.

At the time that anglers first began casting flies to bass, trout patterns were used. The favored artificial flies were big, and Henshall [James Henshall author of Book of Black Bass in 1881] said the flies patterns were not critical. In fact, the gaudier and more colorful the flies the better they were perceived to work. Most popular bass patterns were copies of trout flies. The fancy flies for trout grew more and more popular under this prevailing attitude, and the size and materials in the bass version developed rather naturally into what would be known as bass bugs...

The bass bug proper came about as a couple of different traditions converged.

As early as the 1760s, William Bartram reported a technique used by native Americans in the Southeast to capture largemouth bass. The lure was called a bob, a fist-sized wad of deer hair and feathers wrapped around three hooks bound by their shanks. The bob was suspended from a long pole and worked over the surface of the water from the front of a canoe, as the canoe was worked quietly along the shoreline by a paddler in the stern.

According to McClane [McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia], the original cork-bodied bass bugs developed in Missouri and Arkansas, on the Saint Francis and Little rivers. These waters gave rise to local lures stuck together from beer-bottle corks and turkey feathers, well before 1900.

The development of the hair-bug, the spun deer-hair style body, is a mystery. Schullery says Henshall is often acknowledged as creator of the trimmed-hair bass bug, but he fails to give a date for this.

William Bayard Sturgis claims the hair-spinning technique came to Chicago about 1912, brought by Emerson Hough, who found a fly tied in this way on a fishing trip in the "far North." Originally, Sturgis reports, the body was spun with bucktail. Hough and Fred Peet worked with the tying technique through that winter, developing a fly named after Hough. Later, according to Sturgis, tyers switched to deer body hair for spinning."

Recipe Emerson Hough Bucktail

Tail: Light reddish-brown bucktail hairs of various lengths: the longest being about an inch.

Body: Brown deer hair spun and clipped to shape.

Wing: Dark brown bucktail tied in at a 40 degree angle.

Credits: Quoted text from A Concise History of Fly Fishing by Glenn Law, published by the Lyons Press. Photo and recipe from Forgotten Flies published by the Compete Sportsman.

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