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?


The Butcher

The Butcher Salmon Fly

By Eric Austin
Flies tied by Eric Austin


Let's put this all in perspective with the old rhyme:

Rub a dub dub,
Three men in a tub;
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick-maker;
Turn 'em out, knaves all three!

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick-maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,
'Twas enough to make a man stare.

That was for all the people, who for the life of them, couldn't remember where the phrase "The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker" comes from. I was one of your number. The internet is a marvelous thing. Now that that's out of the way, we can talk about the fly.

The Butcher is credited to G.S. Jewhurst of Tunbridge, Kent, UK. It is a very old fly, and originally it was known as "Moon's Fly," after a very good fisherman who popularized it. Mr. Moon was a butcher, and tier William Blacker renamed the fly "The Butcher" in 1838, after the trade of Mr. Moon. I tend to think though that this was more a sale's gimmick, this renaming, and the popularity of the fly really took off.

The Butcher is another of just a few flies that were more "universal" in their appeal, not just germane to one river or locale. The appeal was such that ultimately, wet fly versions appeared. These flies bore little resemblance to the salmon fly, but were, I believe, capitalizing on the name. Then of course, came the Bloody Butcher, an enhancement of the name, building on the carnage the original name suggests. So here we have a series of flies, that may or may not have been effective, but sold like crazy because of the name. All fly inventors, please take note.

The Butcher, The Baker, and The Candlestick Maker, are, if nothing else, a wonderfully named group of flies. They are all somewhat difficult to dress, but the Butcher's very difficult. Mikael Frodin says: "Sir Herbert Maxwell was not fond of this pattern and he described it as a tiresome fly to dress, and ugly to behold." I've got to disagree. While it is tough to tie, I like the more subdued look of this fly compared to some others of the day. It is certainly not a "gaudy" fly, by any stretch. Kelson lists the pattern as below, but said that he always added a golden pheasant topping. Francis Francis has three versions in A Book on Angling, only one of which has a topping. Dr. Pryce-Tannatt has a version where the topping is optional. From all I can tell though, the original versions had no topping, so my fly doesn't either. Here is the recipe from Kelson:

Kelson's Butcher (Shown above)

    Tag: Silver twist and yellow silk.

    Tail: Topping, and powdered blue macaw.

    Butt: Black herl.

    Body: In four equal divisions of seal's fur; light red-claret and light blue, dark-red claret and dark blue respectively.

    Ribs: Silver tinsel (preceded on large hooks by silver lace).

    Hackle: A natural black, from light red-claret seal's fur.

    Throat: A yellow hackle and gallina.

    Wings: A tippet, and breast feather of golden pheasant (back to back) veiled with teal, golden pheasant tail, gallina, bustard, and peacock wing; strands of parrot (green) and swan dyed yellow; and mallard.

    Horns: Blue macaw.

    Cheeks: Chatterer.

    Head: Black herl.

The wet flies had considerable popularity as well, and are still a staple for brook trout. I've done two versions, The Butcher, and The Bloody Butcher. I've tied The Butcher in the older manner, with the hackle in front of the wings. There are still great tiers tying wets this way, and though I've never done them this way myself, I might well switch. Alice Conba, the fantastic Irish tier, sent me a set of beautiful wets that are all tied the traditional Irish way. It certainly works for Alice, and I think it gives one a bit more flexibility in setting the wing. However you tie them, wet flies can be very satisfying. They have a great classical beauty that I, for one, miss. Here are the recipes for The Butcher and The Bloody Butcher wet flies. I might note that Ray Bergman lists a third recipe that's nothing like the more traditional Butcher, and while it's a pretty fly, to me it's something else.

Bloody Butcher Wet Fly

The Butcher Wet Fly

    Tail: Scarlet goose or hackle fibers.

    Body: Flat silver tinsel.

    Rib: Oval silver tinsel.

    Wing: Blue mallard with white tips, or crow.

    Hackle: Natural black.

The Bloody Butcher

Butcher Wet Fly
    Tail: Scarlet goose or hackle fibers.

    Body: Flat silver tinsel.

    Rib: Oval silver tinsel.

    Wing: Blue mallard with white tips, or crow.

    Hackle: Scarlet.

Ray Bergman's Butcher

    Tail: Scarlet.

    Body: Scarlet Floss.

    Rib: Yellow Silk.

    Wing: None.

    Hackle: Badger.
    ~ Eric Austin

    Credits: Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin; Trout by Ray Bergman; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; The Salmon Fly by George Kelson.

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