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?

Francis Francis' Dusty Miller

By Eric Austin, Ohio

This fly has always been a favorite of mine, and I decided to present it here for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it's just a simple and beautiful salmon fly, without a lot of folderol and gingerbread. The second reason I wanted to do it is that, as full dress salmon flies go, it's relatively easy. I thought that with the FAOL full dress salmon fly competition looming it would be a good warm-up for me. I've seen several posts on-line lately from people who wanted a good entry-level fly so they could get started with the full dress flies with married wings, and this fly seemed a natural. Why not put up a good example? The joke was on me.

This "easy" fly, presented beautifully by Marvin Nolte in Judith Dunham's book The Atlantic Salmon Fly, is not so easy if you don't have all your ducks in a row, and I didn't. I wound up tying no less than eight of these trying to get a good one. First off, I was a bit out of practice with these, and had some problems with proportions, getting the tails right, which is critical, and some other things. But my main bugaboo was the married wing, and it came down to materials. I tried to "get away" with some things here, and with married wings that's always a mistake. I had some leftover turkey feathers from other flies, and tried to make do, over-dying them, and dying some white ones that I had. Well, that simply didn't work because I was using too hot a dye bath and the feathers were losing just enough of their marrying qualities to make tying them in successfully almost impossible. I tried using goose and turkey combined, and didn't come out well there either. I found some old green swan finally, and combined that with carefully selected red goose pairs that I over-dyed with blue to get a quasi-claret color, and finally got a set of wings. I did one beautiful fly that when all was said and done turned out to have a silver rib instead of the gold (it looked silver on Marvin's fly, I swear). All in all, it's been a bit of a nightmare.

So what did I learn, and is this really a good entry-level fly? First off, yes, it's a dandy entry-level fly for someone wanting a good starter for married wings. My problems really came down to my own failure to not start with good matched pairs of quality feathers that had the proper strand length. I was using odds and ends and trying to marry them together, some feathers having too much reverse curl, others coming from the "wrong" side of the bird, etc. Marrying feathers is the easiest thing in the world, as long as you start with the right materials. I didn't, and paid the price. The thing that makes this such a good entry-level fly though is the lack of complications around the head. This is really the hard part with a lot of full dress flies, trying to get the cheeks, sides, shoulders, roof, topping, and horns on at the head, and this fly is greatly simplified there. So get some good matched pairs and tie away, it's not as hard as I made it. Of course, it's always hard to get a good one. Here's the recipe:

Francis Francis' Dusty Miller

    Hook: Marvin Nolte used a 1/0 Partridge "Bartleet" on his fly, which is not a blind-eye hook. I would highly recommend that hook if you're just starting out, as it's a bit easier to deal with than the blind-eye one shown in my example. I used a 3/0 Galic Supreme blind-eye hook, and had to really select goose carefully for length. Getting long enough goose is always something of a problem.

    Tag: Silver twist and apple green floss.

    Tail: Golden pheasant crest.

    Butt: Black ostrich herl.

    Body: Embossed silver tinsel.

    Rib: Oval gold tinsel.

    Throat: Olive saddle hackle and spotted guinea fowl.

    Wings: Golden pheasant tail, and green and claret turkey (used in Marvin's fly, you may use goose or swan as well).

    Sides: Teal.

    Cheeks: Jungle cock.

    Topping: Golden pheasant crest Head: Black. ~ EA

Credits: The Atlantic Salmon Fly by Judith Dunham.

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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