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