The saga of this bass fly spans decades. It starts with a
brief mention in Mary Orvis Marbury's Favorite Flies
and Their Histories, and ends with J. Edson Leonard's
Flies. Here is the sentence that started it all,
taken from Mary Orvis Marbury's write up of Willam J. Cassard's
bass fly, "The Matador":
"Mr. Cassard has also invented two similar patterns
that are excellent bass flies, which he calls the Romany Rye
and Romany Ree, both having wings of the black barred feathers
of the wood duck, like those of the Matador."
The two flies are not shown in the book, just casually
mentioned. When it came time for J. Edson Leonard to do
research for his book some 50 years later, he found
references to these flies and began wondering what they
were really all about. He writes:
"During the time I was spending hours on end in
research on fly patterns, I happened to find mention of
the Romany Rye and the Romany Ree. At first, the names
seemed to indicate the possibility of British origin;
however, so little information was available, I began a
search in an effort to find at least additional mention
of the name. Eventually two references were found; one
alluded to the probability that the flies were named after
the nicknames given by the English to a Gypsy man and woman,
while the other suggested the likelihood that they were of
American origin. Favorite Flies, a masterpiece
in the exposition of fly lore, written by Mary Orvis Marbury,
contained an account explaining that these flies were the
inventions of Mr. William J. Cassard of New York City who
also designed the Matador and the Cassard. The Orvis people
of Manchester, Vermont, were kind enough to cooperate by
searching their files for further clues to the true dressing
of these two flies. Mr. C.W. Shafer, then treasurer of the
Orvis Company, explained that he had succeeded in finding one
Romany Rye which had been tied for the exhibit of the Orvis
line of flies at the World's Fair in 1893, and that he would
have one tied according to the original pattern. I received
this shortly thereafter, and entered the dressing in the
Dictionary of Patterns, exactly according to this
sample. Unfortunately the Romany Ree, a variation of the
Romany Rye, is nowhere described in the reams of notes I
have collected nor in any of the volumes at my disposal.
Since the sample sent to me by Mr. Shafer was tagged, "Romany
Rye" or "Romany Ree," I indexed the two flies accordingly."
So the end result is that the names of the flies do have an
English origin, but the flies themselves are American. As I
was tying my version of the Romany Rye, I began to think
about the materials I was using, very beautiful, somewhat
expensive materials. Either Alan Podell or Jan Broga sent
the barred wood duck, I'm not sure who, as each has sent me
gorgeous barred wood duck at one time or another. The golden
pheasant tippet used in the wings was sent to me by another
friend, Alice Conba of Ireland. The true badger hackle arrived
recently, sent by Denny Conrad because he heard I had a house
fire and wanted to help. I did a little research in a book
called English Trout Flies by W. H. Lawrie, a
gift from Reed Curry. Fred Bridge sent the Mary Orvis Marbury
book to me awhile back. Even the hook was sent to me I believe.
I think it came with several others sent by Alan Goodwin, Alan
the Highlander, of Scotland. Nearly everything pertaining to
the tying of this fly was sent to me, unsolicited, by one good
friend or another in the fly tying community. A better group
of people you will not find. It's quite humbling to realize
that there are so many kind and generous individuals in our
Tag: Silver twist.
Tip: Yellow floss.
Tail: Peacock herl over married red and white goose.
Butt: Peacock herl.
Ribbing: Silver twist
Body: Silver tinsel.
Thorax: Pink chenille.
Wing: Barred wood duck, golden pheasant tippet
shoulders. ~ EA
I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown
of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River.
I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours
with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and
A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying
just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable
time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that
somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a
group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store
that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y.
My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically.
Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always
considered him to be one of my biggest influences.
I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't
fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with
had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in
John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the
keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in
the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the
time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's
studio. It was a blast.
So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies
column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply
wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies
take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get
to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy
hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies
brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense
hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old
books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now,
here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA