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 Other No-Hackle

The Other No-Hackle
By Eric Austin, Ohio


We have, my friends, come full circle. I intend to show here that we are now, after years of scientific inquiry and investigation, fishing in much the same way as Dame Juliana Berners did in 1450. Techno fishing has become retro fishing, and I'll prove it with this fly.

Which authors most exemplify the scientific approach to modern-day trout fishing would you guess? Art Flick, Vince Marinaro, Joe Brooks, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, certainly all of these legends would be considered important. I would have to choose the ground breaking work started by Vince Marinaro in A Modern Dry-Fly Code and Swisher/Richard's Selective Trout as the two most important books bearing on today's technical fly-fishing, along with Caucci/Nastasi's Hatches which builds on the work of Fran Betters. Most of the flies used today by serious spring creek anglers are a direct outgrowth of those shown in works by these authors, if not identical copies. Even cripples and captive duns are included in Swisher/Richard's second book Fly Fishing Strategies.

It is the no-hackle that I'd like to focus on here. I just now received a copy of Selective Trout from a good friend, Dr. Barton Evans of Bozeman, Montana. I thought I knew all about this book, having read entire sections from it in other sources, but I was surprised when I looked at the no-hackle duns. Several versions are shown, and the focus is more on the cut wing, hackle tip wing, and mallard breast feather winged versions than the mallard quill no-hackle that we all fish today. I immediately felt the need to tie some of these, and the best of the bunch is represented at the top of the page. I photographed the fly, looked at it, and thought "This looks like some of the old colonial flies from Williamsburg, VA." It also reminded me of some representations I'd seen of Dame Juliana Berner's flies.

There is considerable argument whether or not flies were fished wet or dry in the years before actual fly rods and reels made an appearance. Dapping, or dabbling a fly in the water above fish, was clearly an established method of fly fishing, using long sticks with a short length of horse-hair line at the end, with a fly attached to the end of that. Dame Juliana herself talks of fishing for trout at "leaping time" with a "float line" and "dubbed hook." Logic dictates that some of these flies were fished dry, or at the very least, "damp." In any case, I'll make that argument here. Now let's look at one of Dame Juliana's fly recipes:

The Yellow Fly: the body of yellow wool; the wings of red cock's hackle and of the drake dyed yellow.

Here's one from Cotton, circa 1676:

"We have another dun, called the BARM-FLY, from its yeasty colour(sic). The dubbing of the fur of a yellow dun cat, and a grey wing of a mallard's feather."

The last fly differs very little from the PMD no-hackle dun I've shown, the latter having a body of pale yellow/olive fur, light gray duck shoulder or breast feather wings, and tail of dun hackle fibers.

So we see that with all the aquarium nets, slant tanks, modern macro photography, years of study built upon the years of study of others, we have achieved what Dame Juliana and Charles Cotton accomplished several hundred years ago, the no-hackle dun. I think all our hard work has finally paid off!

Seriously though, something must be said here regarding the inclusion of split tails by Swisher and Richards on their dun, a great aid to floating and stabilizing this fly. Vince Marinaro pioneered this idea with his thorax flies, using the "outrigger tails" to keep the fly from tipping over. Their collective work succeeded in creating dry flies that would work on still water, having a profile that makes catching spooky trout in our heavily pounded waters a possibility. Marinaro, Swisher, and Richards truly are the great ones of our current era. I had a wonderful time tying some of these, and if you don't think Carl Richards belongs in the pantheon of great fly tiers, I would suggest giving this one a try. They have all the difficulty of fan wings, with the added challenge that the mallard wings should come out the sides of the fly. When tied in smaller sizes, this fly becomes a real bear. Here's the recipe for The Other No-Hackle PMD, as shown above:

    Hook: As light a dry fly hook as you can find, #16 or #18 if you can manage it.

    Tail: Dun hackle fibers, or coq de Leon, or microfibbets dyed PMD yellow/olive.

    Body: Rough PMD dubbing, dubbed heavy enough to float the fly well. This should taper to a thick thorax.

    Wings: Mallard breast or shoulder feathers.

Swisher/Richards suggest firming the mallard feathers up with some lacquer or cement, and I think it's a good idea. What I did was to use thick head cement at the base of the back of each wing before tying in, to about a third of the way up. This helps keep the wing together when tying in, and intact when fishing. These flies are for quiet, clear water, and spooky trout. Floatability is an issue, and a good spread on the tails, and high floating dubbing are a must. ~ EA

Credits: Selective Trout by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards; The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle by Dame Juliana Berners; A Fly Fishing History by Dr. Andrew Heard.

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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