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 Governor Alvord


By Eric Austin, Ohio


This fly was an Ohio favorite. Hugh Hardy, a Columbus native, writes the following in a letter to Mary Orvis Marbury:

"From this time [June 15th] until the last of September I never rig a cast without a Gov. Alvord as one of them. I have had phenomenal luck with this fly during the last three years. I remember, just this last September, when I took in an hour's fishing six nice black bass, and every one of them with the Gov. Alvord."

Mr. Hardy was not alone in a group of correspondents singing the praises of the Governor Alvord as a first rate fly for black bass (small-mouth to you and me). Throughout Favorite Flies and Their Histories there are enough references to the fly that I've decided that the next time I fish the Olentangy River here in Columbus, I'm going to give it a go myself. I'm not sure what the magical properties are, but this fly appears to have some.

Not to be confused with the fly "The Governor," the Gov. Alvord is always referred to as "Gov.". It was named after the Lieutenant Governor of New York. The fly "The Governor," (shown on the right), while similar in many respects, is listed in Favorite Flies as a trout fly. Both flies sport the body of peacock herl, but The Governor has a single wing of hen peacock, while the Gov. Alvord has more of a "built wing" to use the salmon fly vernacular. In addition, the Governor is a quite old English fly actually, while the Gov. Alvord was developed here in the states. You might say that the Gov. Alvord is something of an enhancement of the venerable Governor.

Terry Hellekson in his book Fish Flies has dug up an interesting article from a Syracuse N.Y. newspaper recounting the exploits of Governor Alvord over the course of one fishing season. This might just go down as one of the greatest fish stories ever told, and reads as follows:

"Governor Alvord, who has returned to Syracuse from his summer St. Lawrence home, thus triumphantly sums up his season's catch of fish: Black bass, 2,309; rock bass, 1,762; pickerel, 373; chub, 179; all other kinds, 35; total, 5,024. Greatest day's fish, July 1 (fly) 333."

Sure, and I'm the governor of New York. Well, it seem to have been a good fly anyway, and here's the recipe:

Gov. Alvord per J. Edson Leonard

    Wing: Cinnamon over black

    Hackle: Brown.

    Body: Peacock herl, gold tip.

    Tail: Scarlet.

Governor per J. Edson Leonard

    Wing: Dark brown turkey.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Body: Peacock herl, red floss tip.

Credits: Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Fish Flies by Terry Hellekson. ~ 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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