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 Greyhound

By Eric Austin, Ohio

On making my weekly pilgrimage to my local fly shop, Jim Andrix pulled me aside as my purchases were being totaled and quietly said, "You know that Carrie Stevens book? You still want it?"

Over the years Jim and I had spent some time looking at the book together. Jim is the traditionalist at the shop, and knows that I am of the same mindset. He's sold me lots of equipment and materials over time, and has never sold me anything I didn't like. I answered him "Yeah, I think I do," knowing that the book was $40.00, money I didn't have, but something in Jim's tone told me to answer in the affirmative.

Jim said "The book's half off right now, the owner said to get it out of the store. I've been saving it in the back for you, so nobody else would get it."

And so it was that I came to purchase Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. and Leslie K. Hilyard. I had lusted after that book for years, but $40 is a figure that is always just beyond my reach. Fortunately for me, Jim knows his customers. You can't beat a good relationship with your local fly shop.

So now I know something about Carrie Stevens. She tied without a vise, which is not all that remarkable as many did when she started. The remarkable thing to me is that she invented the greatest streamer ever known, completely in private, having read no books and having never seen a fly tied. If you don't think that the Gray Ghost is the greatest streamer ever known, I'd suggest a trip to Dan Bailey's fly shop in Livingston, Montana. On the wall there are silhouettes of the biggest fish ever caught in the state, and you will be astounded to see the numbers that were caught on the Gray Ghost streamer.

This is particularly amazing to me when one considers that the fly was invented for brook trout in Maine in the '20s, where it caught many a record fish there. Carrie herself was catapulted to fame on the strength of a 6lb. 13 ounce brook trout she caught in 1924 on Upper Dam, her summer home, located between Lakes Mooselucmaguntic and Mollychunkemunk. One could make the argument that Carrie Stevens was a better fisherman than she was a fly tier, and it was her desire to catch the big ones that resulted in her "Rangeley Favorite" streamers and their lifelike action in the water.

As a tier, Mrs. Stevens can only be considered unconventional. She would wrap her ribbing the opposite way round as was the norm, and constructed her flies in a prefab manner, one that makes great sense. She glued the shoulder/cheek/wing assemblies together ahead of time, tying them on as two pre-assembled units to bodies that were also assembled en masse. I view this as nothing more than a bit of efficiency built on the notion of the assembly line. An argument has also been made that by gluing the wing assembly, the action of the fly was made more realistic. She tied all the other popular streamers of the day as well, The Supervisor, Mickey Finn, etc. She was, after all, a commercial fly tier, one of the greatest that ever lived. But I could go on and on. I should say something about this fly.

One thing that's unusual about the Greyhound is that it has a tail. Most of Carrie Stevens' original patterns are variations on the theme of the Gray Ghost. They are typified by a very long Allcock streamer hook, a thin floss body with no taper, reverse wrapped tag and ribbing, no tail, an "underbelly" of peacock herl and bucktail, a throat of hackle or golden pheasant crest, two wing assemblies each containing two long spade hackles, a shoulder and a jungle cock eye cheek, and her signature head with one or more whip finished bands. Just a few of her original patterns deviate from this general format, the Greyhound being one, as it has a tail. I should insert a caveat here. My fly has the ribbing wound in the conventional manner, rather than reversing it as Mrs. Stevens did. The first fly I tied from the book, the Gray Ghost, I wrapped things her way. By the time I got to this fly the next day, I was thinking about other matters, and out of habit, wrapped the ribbing conventionally. Since none other than Mike Martinek and Marcelo Morales wrap theirs in the conventional way (see Forgotten Flies), I decided to let it go. I will try to be more historically correct with future Steven's flies. Here is the recipe for The Greyhound:


    Tag: Flat silver tinsel.

    Tail: Red hackle fibers.

    Body: Red floss.

    Ribbing: Flat silver twist

    Underbelly: Four to six strands of peacock herl, then white bucktail.

    Throat: Red hackle fibers.

    Wing: Four gray hackles.

    Shoulders: A jungle cock body feather.

    Cheeks: Jungle cock eye.

    Head: Red with a black band. ~ 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

Credits: Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. and Leslie K. Hilyard.

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