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 Harlequin


By Eric Austin


We're going way back for this one. This is one for my hero, F.M. Halford, the inventor and promoter of "match the hatch" fishing, the eyed hook, wings as we use them today, and dry fly fishing in general. He is largely responsible for the purist approach to fly fishing, both the good and the bad aspects thereof. He was a devote of the chalk streams in the South of England, and when I was young I thought this the highest, purest sort of fly fishing, and endeavored to follow in the footsteps of those who had aspired to this, the noblest of pursuits. Choosing the dry fly, the most sporting of all ways to fish, I was to embark upon a lifelong journey, almost a religious quest if you will, in search of I'm not sure what. Many fishless days ensued.

The Harlequin is found in Halford's book Floating Flies, number 79 in a list of 81 flies. There really aren't that many, he has several versions of many flies, including seven olives, two hare's ears, three iron blue duns, and a number of green drakes. Halford went to some lengths to get just the right feathers for his wings, using Coot, Adjutant, Snipe (I always thought this to be a mythical bird, the "snipe hunt" notwithstanding), Chaffinch tail, Landrail, Rouen Drake, Canadian Summer Duck, Jay, several shades of Starling, Woodcock, and a partridge in a pair tree. I made up the last one. In fact, I was hard pressed to find a fly that I thought I could reasonably duplicate with today's materials. But hold on, I had Blue Jay wings! All right, I would do the Harlequin!

Well, as it turns out, Blue Jay quill is just about impossible to use for dry fly quill wings, at least it was for me. These quills are much finer than mallard, and might work for wet fly wings, but how you get a decent looking pair of dry fly wings out of these is beyond me. They split the minute I wrapped two wraps of thread around them. Could it be that F. M. Halford was that much better a fly dresser that I am? Could be. So I went right to mallard, and stayed there through the wet and dry versions of the Harlequin. The dry is above, the wet, below.

I'm not quite sure if this is actually a Halford pattern or not. He says this about it:

"An old-fashioned pattern, which might with advantage be used by the modern school of Anglers, especially for evening fishing."

Does he mean that is was a wet fly pattern that he turned into a dry? I'm not sure. The fly was tied both ways throughout history. Mary Orvis Marbury shows it as a dry, and lists it as a Halford pattern. Ray Bergman has it as a wet. I've covered all bases, and tied both. One can't be too careful. Here is the recipe, which also covers both bases:

The Harlequin

    Wings: From Jay wing.

    Hackle: Black cock.

    Body: Lower half orange floss silk, upper half blue floss silk, the whole body ribbed with gold wire.

    Hook: 0 to 3 (that's #15 to #12 for you and me). I tied the dry using #14, the wet using #12.

Credits: Credits: English Trout Flies by W.H. Lawrie; Trout by Ray Bergman; Favorite Flies and their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury. ~ Eric Austin

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