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 Owner

The Owner
By Eric Austin, Md

I like to think that the Owner was created by a fly fisherman who finally gave up. After seeing how successful a strip of red flannel was at attracting brook trout or black bass, the tier decided to just tie a fly that looked like a strip of red flannel. Is this what the creator of the Owner had in mind? Well, we'll never know, but I like to think it anyway.

The history of the Owner describes the fishing in the Potomac in 1885. It seems by the time Mary Orvis Marbury wrote her book in 1892 things had gone downhill, and only in the 1990s was there an attempt to resurrect trout fishing in this once clear and clean river. I'm not sure how that experiment has panned out, with its PH changing stations along the North Branch, but hope springs eternal. Mr. J. S. Owner, the originator of the fly also known as the Red Guinea, had this to say about his creation:

"It originated with me in 1885, and for two summers it was a very successful fly. Then it seemed to give way to the great variety, principally all black, like the Silver Black, or white, as the Parmacheene Belle or Coachman. In the years that the Owner was popular, I remember that the waters of the Potomac were very low and clear. Fishing, for that reason, was better early and late: at daylight to eight or nine A. M., and from four P. M. till dark; even after dark, if there were a full moon, clear sky, and clear, low water. I, with a companion, fished one night until half past ten, not having caught a fish until it was dark. The position we occupied was on the wall of an old fish-pot, at the head of a long reach of deep water, the water within the fish-pot being about two feet deep, and with clear, pebbly or rocky bottom. The flies were hardly ever laid out, but they were taken by one and frequently two fish, all of good size, from one to three pounds. At 10:30 P. M. we had all we could carry, and stopped."

The Potomac has rebounded substantially from a century of abuse, and Mr. Owner would be pleased. Here is the recipe for his fly:

    Tip: Silver tinsel.

    Tail: Red fibers (mallard or goose).

    Ribbing: Yellow floss

    Body: Yellow floss.

    Wing: Red Guinea.

    Hackle: Orange.

Credits: Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury.

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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