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?


Elsie Darbee Catskill Ties

By Eric Austin


For the few of you that don't know, I'll start with a little bit about the legendary Catskill fly tying family, the Darbees. During the height of the depression, Harry Darbee and Walt Dette began their small tying business in Roscoe, N.Y. Winnie Dette, an accomplished tier in her own right, was helping out as well, as they struggled to fill one particular order from a N.Y. city firm for 1,800 dozen flies. It got to the point where they needed someone to sort materials, keep the hackle coming, so the three could stay at their vises.

Pop Robbins suggested the daughter of a woman in whose house he roomed, Elsie Bivins. Pop was secretly playing cupid here, and it worked. Elsie was hired, and eventually asked if she could be taught to tie as well. Harry taught her, they fell in love, and were married in 1934. She became a full partner in the firm, and became so well known for her winging techniques that she writes the winging section in Harry Darbee's book Catskill Flytier.

A serious fly fisher as well, she is shown in the book at least twice with huge salmon caught on their trips to the Margaree River.

These pictures were sent to me by Terry Hellekson, fly fishing historian and author of Popular Fly Patterns and the soon to be released Fish Flies. The flies shown make up one of twenty four sets that were tied for the Art Flick book Art Flick's Streamside Guide.

The flies speak for themselves, and I don't need to add much in the way of commentary. A couple of things I noticed right away were the long hackles used on the flies, at least two times the gap width, the long tails, and the incredibly long hackles on the Variants. The Variants would be difficult to do now with much of today's hackle. Another thing that struck me as a tier was that there is little or no "bare hook" showing behind the eye on these flies, as is thought to be "traditional" today. Of course, the wings are just perfect. But you can study these and come to your own conclusions.

Light Cahill

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, sizes 12-14.

    Thread: Cream.

    Wings: Barred lemon wood duck tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Light ginger hackle barbs.

    Body: Dubbed with cream fox fur.

    Hackle: Light ginger tied on as a collar.

    Coffin Fly (Flick)

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, sizes 8-10.

    Thread: Olive.

    Wings: Barred mallard tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Three black rabbit whiskers.

    Body: Porcupine quill.

    Hackle: Very light natural dun tied on as a collar.

    Cream Variant

    Hooks: Mustad R48 or Tiemco 921, size 12.

    Thread: Yellow.

    Tail: Cream hackle barbs.

    Body: Cream hackle stem.

    Hackle: Cream tied on as a collar.

    Gray Fox

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, size 12.

    Thread: Primrose.

    Wings: Barred mallard tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Ginger hackle barbs.

    Body: Dubbed with fawn colored fur from red fox.

    Hackle: Light ginger and light cast grizzly tied on as a collar mixed.

    Hendrickson

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, size 12.

    Thread: White.

    Wings: Barred lemon wood duck tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Dun hackle barbs.

    Body: Dubbed with pink fur from a vixen red fox. (Color is caused by urine burn.)

    Hackle: Dun tied on as a collar.

    Red Quill (Flick)

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, size 12.

    Thread: Brown.

    Wings: Barred lemon wood duck tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Dun hackle barbs.

    Body: Neck hackle stem from Rhode Island Red cock.

    Hackle: Dun tied on as a collar.

    Gray Fox Variant

    Hooks: Mustad R48 or Tiemco 921, size 12.

    Thread: Primrose.

    Tail: Ginger hackle barbs.

    Body: Cream hackle stem.

    Hackle: One light ginger, one dark ginger and one grizzly tied on as a collar mixed.

    Blue-Winged Olive

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, sizes 16-18.

    Thread: Olive.

    Tail: Dark dun hackle barbs.

    Body: Dubbed with a blend of olive synthetic fur and a small amount of muskrat fur.

    Hackle: Dark dun tied on as a collar.

    Dun Variant (Flick)

    Hooks: Mustad R48 or Tiemco 921, size 12.

    Thread: Olive.

    Tail: Dun hackle barbs.

    Body: Rhode Island Red hackle stem.

    Hackle: Dark dun tied on as a collar.

    American March Brown (Flick)

    Hooks: Mustad R30, Tiemco 100 or Daiichi 1180, sizes 10-12.

    Thread: Orange.

    Wings: Barred lemon wood duck tied upright and divided.

    Tail: Dark ginger hackle barbs.

    Body: Dubbed with light fawn colored red fox belly fur.

    Hackle: Dark ginger and dark grizzly tied on as a collar mixed.

I would very much like to thank Terry Hellekson for thinking of FlyAnglersOnLine.com when he was looking for a vehicle to disseminate these wonderful, historical flies. Terry's work is vital to maintaining the great traditions that are such a big part of the sport of fly fishing.

These flies are the property of Glenn C. Overton and were purchased by him from Elsie Darbee.

Credits: Catskill Flytier My Life, Times and Techniques by Harry Darbee with Mac Francis, published by J.B. Lippincott Company. ~ Eric Austin

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