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 Orange Blue

By Eric Austin, Ohio

I've been thinking for a couple of weeks now that I needed to get back to the Bergman flies, which were my prime motivation for doing this column in the first place. The dilemma is always history with these, as some of the prettier ones come without much information. The Orange Blue was a fly that caught my eye immediately, and one I've wanted to do for some time now. The truth is I don't have a single bit of information about this fly, and the only reference I've ever seen concerning it is the recipe and artistic rendering in Trout. Being somewhat fearless by nature however, I've decided to plunge ahead with an article anyway, because I think that when all is said and done, the Orange Blue is a pretty fly.

I'll start by saying I've never liked chenille as a tying material. This is deeply rooted in my childhood I'm afraid. In the '60s we had all kinds of flies with chenille bodies, the best known of which was the Black Gnat. A more poorly named fly never existed. I would see groups of tiny midges swarming on the stream and think "I know what fly I need, the Black Gnat", whereupon I'd pull out the big old #14 fat chenille bodied gray winged chunk of fun and flog the water mercilessly with it until my arms got tired. If I saw say a small bee (we used to call them "sweat bees") I'd drag out the McGinty. Now I'm sure these flies worked somewhere on the planet, but they sure didn't work for me, ever. Why on earth would you call a fly a Black Gnat when it's a hundred times bigger than any gnat there ever was? I've never figured it out. But I knew one thing for sure, big fat chenille bodies didn't work. Not in the Adirondacks anyway, not for me. Now the egg sack flies like the Female Beaverkill worked ok, so I wasn't down on chenille completely, just when used for bodies.

When I saw the Orange Blue in Bergman's book I thought that at last, here was a reasonable use for chenille. I was already sold on the San Juan Worms, and Fred Bridge's enhancement thereof, the Infamous Pink Worm, chenille used as God intended, but still saw little use for it in fly bodies. But here was a fly where the chenille was used for a thorax, and now we were talking! Rather than build up a thorax on a cripple, like Harrop's Brown Drake or Green Drake, why not just wind on some chenille? Makes sense to me, and I just might try it one of these days.

My real stumbling block with this fly though was the hen pheasant wings. Ring-neck pheasants of the male persuasion seemingly abound, but I'd never even seen a hen pheasant. Fortunately for me, I've gotten to know the Irish tier Alice Conba, and have spent some time studying with and learning from this consummate tier. She does a March Brown with Hen Pheasant wings that is absolute perfection, a fly that I just HAD to tie. Here's a photo of a March Brown Alice sent me, tied in her own special way:

Just a little historical perspective for those who think the Black Gnat is an old fly. The date on the envelope for the March Brown is 1360. Alice had traced the lineage of the fly back that far. Alice picked up on the fact that I didn't have any hen pheasant quills, and sent me some so I could learn to do her fly. So at last, I was able to do her wonderful March Brown, and this fly that I bring you today. Here's the recipe for the Orange Blue, we at least have that much information about the fly. And we have some newfound respect for chenille as well!

Orange Blue

    Body: Orange Chenille and blue floss.

    Tip: Gold tinsel.

    Tail: Golden pheasant tippet.

    Hackle: Claret.

    Wing: Pheasant, orange stripe.

    Head: Black.

Credits: Trout by Ray Bergman; March Brown tied by Alice Conba. ~ 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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