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?


Flies in Black and White: The Widow and the Undertaker

By Eric Austin, Ohio


When I grew up the world was less colorful than it is today. Newspapers were in black and white, TV was in black and white, and even some movies were still made in black and white, however "Technicolor" had made a splash. It's funny though, we never actually thought while we were watching or reading that the color was lacking, in fact you sort of put your own colors in, kind of like visualizing what the characters looked like in a radio play.

The two flies I bring today reminded me of those days, and the old fly tying and fishing books we had at our little library, that were also, for the most part, in black and white. Typically all the instructions were shown with pen and ink drawings, but there would also be those color plates, where you could see the flies in all their glory, and I lived in those pages. The flies were so exciting then, so colorful, with unknown foreign materials like marabou, which I always assumed came from the African stork, though today it comes from turkey.

Both the Undertaker and the Widow feature macabre names, owing to the color schemes I assume, indicating sure death and widowhood for the unsuspecting trout. I've always gotten a kick out of names like the Assassin, Bloody Butcher, Orange Death, Killer, Undertaker and Widow. I'm sure if the trout knew, they'd get a kick of them too. A name does not an effective fly make, but the colorful names, like the colorful flies, make the traditions of fly-fishing what they are. There's a great romance to our pursuit, and the interesting fly names are all part of it.

So I hope these flies will bring back memories of Johnny Mack Brown, Lash Larue, Durango Kid and Hopalong Cassidy on a Saturday morning for those of you old enough to remember. For those of you not old enough to remember those days of black and white, all I can tell you is we thought they were great.

The Widow

The Widow

    Ribbing: White floss.

    Body: Black Floss.

    Hackle: Black.

    Wing: Black with white stripe.

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

    Tail: Black and white.

    Body: White wool.

    Hackle: Black.

    Wing: White and Black.

Credits: Trout by Ray Bergman. ~ 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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