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 Wilson Flies

By Eric Austin

First off, I need to start with a caveat. I am a huge fan of Ray Bergman. He was directly responsible for firing my enthusiasm and love of the sport of fly fishing when I was young. I loved his books, and read everything of his that I could get my hands on. That said, I've always had a problem with the cookie-cutter wet flies depicted in his book Trout. Even as a kid I remember thinking "Why do all those flies look exactly the same?" Well, the naked truth was, they didn't. They look the same in Trout, but in reality, many of those wet flies didn't have the cookie-cutter look of the ones in Trout, and possibly the best examples are the two Wilson flies shown there, The Wilson, and The Wilson Ant.

The Wilson series of flies included The Wilson, Wilson Ant, Wilson's Mormon Girl, Wilson's Red Ant, Wilson's Trout Fly, Wilson's Trout Killer, and I'm sure many more patterns with the Wilson wing. This wing was NOT the typical wet fly wing made of two matching quill sections, concave sides together, tied as a single vertical "fin" on the hook. The Wilson wing was quite unique, in that it was made from a single breast feather, usually teal, sometimes brown mallard, tied with the concave side UP! This gave the fly a vibrating action as it was worked through the water. You can imagine how intriguing this could be to a fish.

Back to Ray Bergman for a second. He has the recipes for these flies more or less correctly noted, but the depictions of the flies on Plate 9 are simply wrong. J. Edson Leonard correctly notes the single wing in Flies, but makes no mention of how it is tied in. To the rescue of all concerned comes fly historian Terry Hellekson's 1976 book Popular Fly Patterns. Perhaps it has something to do with the book's being published in by a Salt Lake City, Utah publishing company, but he gives the Wilson flies their full due. Here's what he has to say about them:

"The Wilson patterns have become a legend among many of the old time flyfishers and they are still just as effective as they were some decades ago when they were first tied. They were originated by a fly-tyer named Wilson from North Ogden, Utah. These flies are as remarkable as their originator who had but one arm. Their wing is tied with the concave side up which gives them an unusual vibrating action when worked through the water."

In Ray Bergman's defense, I should note that communications in 1938 were not what they are today, and if he had just been sent recipes for these flies, he would have made a logical assumption that they were typical wets. Typical they are not however, in fact, they are quite unique. I'm sure the same winging technique could be used to great effect today. I'm surprised this one was almost lost to history. Here are the recipes:


    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999

    Thread: Orange.

    Body: Dubbed orange synthetic fur or yarn.

    Hackle: Orange.

    Wing: One green winged teal breast feather with A single dot in it. Tie with concave up.

    Wilson Ant

    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999.

    Thread: Brown.

    Body: Dubbed brown synthetic fur or yarn, with peacock herl butt.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Wing: One brown duck breast feather tied with concave up.

    Wilson's Mormon Girl

    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999.

    Thread: Gray.

    Tip: Red floss.

    Body: Yellow floss.

    Hackle: Grizzly.

    Wing: One gray duck shoulder feather tied with concave up.

    Wilson's Red Ant

    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999.

    Thread: Black.

    Body: Red floss.

    Tip: Red floss.

    Tail: Three peacock sword fibers.

    Wilson's Trout Fly

    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999.

    Thread: Black.

    Tip: Red floss.

    Ribbing: Red thread.

    Body: Peacock herl.

    Hackle: Ginger.

    Wing: One green winged teal breast feather with a single dot in it. Tie with concave up.

    Wilson's Trout Killer

    Hook: Mustad wet fly 3906 or 3999.

    Thread: Yellow.

    Tip: Red floss.

    Ribbing: Peacock herl.

    Body: Yellow floss. Reverse wrap the body with fine gold wire.

    Hackle: Grizzly.

    Wing: One green winged teal breast feather with a single dot in it. Tie with concave up.

Credits: Popular Fly Patterns by Terry Hellekson ~ Eric Austin

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