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?


Apple Green, Admiral, Challoner, and Clare Flatt

Green Apple Fly
By Eric Austin, Md


I've found another source of old flies, an on-line version of a book by Bill Blades called Fishing Flies and Fly Tying. I tied up a few from it this week, and though there's not much history associated with these, they're all of interest for other reasons. There are lots of old flies without available histories, and over the next few weeks I'll tie some, and give comments or maybe even some tying tips as we go along.

The first fly is the Apple Green, shown above. I like this fly for the same reason I like Flight's Fancy, Indian Yellow, and Mershon White. These flies all exhibit a simple elegance, demonstrating that a fly doesn't have to be complicated to be very beautiful.

The Admiral

The next fly, the Admiral, I remember well from the '60s when I started tying. It's another in the series of red and white brook trout flies, typified by flies like The Parmacheene Belle, Lake George, and Scarlet Ibis. These must have been very important colors in the quest for native speckled trout back when they were in abundance.

    Tail: Scarlet.

    Body: Red floss; tag and ribbing, gold tinsel [Bergman specifies dark red floss, shown here]

    Wings: White quill sections.

    Hackle: Scarlet.

The Challoner

The Challoner is a fly completely unfamiliar to me, and one that does not, to my knowledge, appear in any other book. Bill Blades includes several such flies in Fishing Flies and Fly Tying, and the book seems to have a northern slant to it at times. For instance, there is a section on tying ice-fishing flies. There are also some Western flies shown as well, giving the book a very different feel from the largely Eastern-based works of Ray Bergman and J. Edson Leonard. You will see several flies in this book that aren't in the standard literature.

    Tail: Red Ibis.

    Body: Yellow wool; ribbing, gold oval tinsel.

    Wings: Hen Pheasant.

    Hackle: Natural red.

The Clare Flatt

The Clare Flatt is very close to being a streamer in many ways. I think it's interesting because he uses "stiff brown hackle" or cock hackle, rather than the softer hen hackle used in so many wets. I would guess that this fly is for faster water.

    Butt: Black chenille

    Body: Rear two thirds brown floss: ribbing, yellow tying silk and gold oval tinsel tied on together, front one third red floss, no ribbing.

    Hackle: Stiff brown hackle length of hook.

    Shoulder: Jungle Cock.

I've been working hard on the heads of my flies lately, and I'm hoping it shows. I find that for me, Don Bastian's four-step process for finishing heads really is superior to other methods that I've tried. I finally broke down recently and ordered some Griff's Thick Multi Coat, using it where he uses Hilles, and have seen quite a difference. I've always used Griff's Thin Multicoat for the first coat, as Don recommends. This penetrating glue really cements the head and wing assembly together. Then he recommends a couple of coats of Hille's Lacquer Cement, which fills in any small gaps in the thread, etc. He does a final coat of Pro Lak, a head lacquer he gets from Canada. I've just been using black lacquer that I bought at my fly shop, distributed by Wapsi. Whatever you use, coats of Hille's or Griff's Thick Cement are important, and shouldn't be skipped. The final black lacquer goes on like a dream then. I dab all these on with a long straight pin, which works best for me. So, it's one coat of Griff's Thin, two coats of Griff's Thick or Hille's, and a coat of black lacquer. This regimen has helped me a great deal, along with flattening the thread as you build the head. Give it a try! ~ EA

Credits: Fishing Flies and Fly Tying by Bill Blades.

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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