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?

Snowie's #1 for the Shin

By Eric Austin, Ohio

I know, you're asking yourself "What is he talking about, Snowie's #1 for the Shin?" I had the same reaction when I first saw a fly tied by Femming Dam Nielson for The Salmon Flier publication called Snowie's #2 for Loch Ness. Was it good in the winter? Well, all was explained when Reed Curry, a friend in New Hampshire, sent me A Book On Angling by Francis Francis. Published in 1867, this book is a revelation on many levels.

Mr. Snowie was a fly dresser from Inverness, Scotland, characterized by Francis Francis as "the best authority for flies upon the rivers in Inverness, Nairn, Elgin, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness." He must have also been well versed in the river Suir in Ireland, and the rivers Shin and The Gary of Lock Ness in Scotland too, because Francis Francis lists flies from him for those locals as well. He lists them by number for these rivers, so Snowie's #1 for the Shin is the first pattern listed in A Book On Angling for the river Shin. Snowie's #2 for Lock Ness is the second pattern listed for The Gary of Lock Ness.

I found many of the patterns from Francis Francis and his acquaintances to be somewhat more dour, a bit less gaudy than those that came later from Kelson and Pryce-Tannat. They are described as Gaudy flies, but they are not nearly as flamboyant. I like this personally, and I think that's what drew me to Flemming Dam Nielson's fly immediately. These are very much flies for fishing, and Francis Francis must have been one of the greatest fishermen who ever lived. He fished for everything, from carp to dace to trout to sea trout to Atlantic salmon. I'm not sure that technically there has been much new written about fly-fishing since this book. His approaches to fishing are as sound today, as they were 150 years ago. In addition, he's a marvelous writer, with a wonderful sense of humor and a great turn of the phrase. If you can find this book anywhere, it's a terrific read. I'm indebted to the Curry lending library for the loan of this copy. Thanks Reed, this is the second great book you've brought to my attention.

So much for the book report. The fly is relatively straight forward, and I will leave you with the recipe exactly as it appears in the book. Seal has been substituted for pig's wool in my version. The word "ribs" as used by Francis Francis refers to what we now call "horns":

No. 1

    Tag: Gold tinsel and orange floss.

    Tail: One topping.

    Butt: Black ostrich herl.

    Body: Two or three turns of gold-coloured(sic) floss, half yellow and half bright claret-red pig's wool.

    Hackle: Black hackle, light claret at shoulder.

    Under Wing: A tippet.

    Upper Wing: Strips of peacock, gold pheasant tail, mallard, peacock stained pale yellow.

    Topping over all: Blue macaw ribs. ~ 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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