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 Autumn Dun


By Eric Austin


This small grey fly from Halford, circa late 1800s, looks to me like it would fish as well today as it must have then. What interests me so much about this fly is the technique used to make the body. Halford calls it heron herl, and it's much like peacock herl or better yet, pheasant tail feathers made into a body, as is done on the pheasant tail nymph. Alice Conba, the great Irish tier, made me aware of this technique when she sent me an Iron Blue Dun she had tied. I couldn't make the body look like hers no matter what I did, I was trying to dub it, and it wasn't close. She wrote me and told me that she had used a strand from a heron feather, wrapped around the hook. What a revelation! You can make these neat, segmented bodies with a strand or two of a feather! Not the center quill, as in quill body flies, just the strands themselves. Of course, it helps to have one from a big feather, with wide herl, like that from a heron or pheasant. Golden pheasant was also used for bodies, chaffinch tail feathers, adjutant (thought that was a kind of general, guess it's a bird), grey goose (thought that was Vodka), and horse hair.

Halford specifies Snipe for the wings, but as I haven't been on a Snipe hunt since camp, I went with grey mottled quills from some unidentified bird that I dug out of my closet. The quill feathers looked like the picture of the Autumn Dun in the Mary Orvis Marbury book. You can also use mottled grey turkey, which is readily available. In fact, J. Edson Leonard specifies that in the first two of three recipes found in Flies.

As you might imagine, this fly has morphed considerably over the past 125 years or so. I'll give Halford's recipe, then three from J. Edson Leonard. Mine is as faithful to Halford as I could make it, and for all I know, that bird from my closet might have been a Snipe.

Halford's Autumn Dun

    Wings: Snipe.

    Body: Heron herl undyed.

    Hackle and Whisk: Palest blue dun.[The Whisk refers to the tail]

    Hook: 00 or 000 [These are size 16 and 17 respectively. I tied mine on a TMC 100 #18 hook, which is about a 17, maybe even closer to a 16. It was obvious to me that Halford wanted this fly to be small, as the BWOs are in the fall.]

Leonard's Autumn Dun #1

    Wings: Gray turkey.

    Hackle: Grizzly.

    Body: Black floss, yellow floss rib.

    Tail: Black.

Leonard's Autumn Dun #2 (Orvis)

    Wings: Gray turkey.

    Hackle: Gray dun.

    Body: Black dubbing, tan thread rib, gold tip>

    Tail: white.

Leonard's Autumn Dun #3

    Wings: Teal Breast.

    Hackle: Gray dun.

    Body: Black floss, yellow floss rib.

    Tail: Black

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

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