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 Romany Rye and The Romany Ree

By Eric Austin, Ohio


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 small circle.

Romany Rye

    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.

    Hackle: Badger.

    Wing: Barred wood duck, golden pheasant tippet shoulders. ~ EA

About Eric:

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

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