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 Colonel Bates

The Colonel Bates
By Eric Austin, Ohio


This Rangeley Region streamer created by Carrie Stevens began its life as Captain Bates. When Joe Bates remarked that he liked the fly, but wished it had a higher rank, it became Major Bates. By the end of World War II it had been renamed Colonel Bates, rising through the ranks as had Joe Bates himself. Colonel Bates and his wife were frequent visitors to the Upper Dam area in the Rangeley Region, where Carrie Stevens tied flies and her husband Wallace guided in the summer. There is a picture in the book Carrie Stevens of Helen Bates and Wallace Stevens in a canoe each holding very large trout.

The books Fishing Atlantic Salmon: The Flies and the Patterns and Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing by Joseph Bates (the former with his daughter Pamela) have become classics, and in 1982 he had this to say about the evolution of the Colonel Bates fly:

"You ask about the history of the Colonel Bates salmon pattern. It came from a streamer fly (see Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing) named for me by Maine's famous tyer(sic), Carrie Stevens, who tied a streamer named the "Captain Bates" at the start of World War II. I kidded her a few times, saying she should have to raise the rank of the fly. Then, much later, Jimmy Younger, descendant of John Younger, wanted to tie a fly and name it for me. I gave him Carrie's pattern and asked him to do a salmon fly similarly. Both versions are popular here, but the latter is primarily and exhibition pattern." - Joseph D. Bates, Jr., 1982

Col. Joseph D. Bates, Jr. was quite a large contributor to Carrie's success. In Carrie Stevens Graydon R. Hilliard has this to say:

"Colonel Bates' many magazine articles about Carrie helped her sales and contributed to her popularity, and in later years, his books ensured her a place in sporting history."
There is an interesting letter shown in the book, which gives us some insight into what a streamer actually is. It is from Mrs. Carrie G. Stevens to Mr. Falkins, who ultimately bought her fly tying business. In it, she lists the recipe for the Colonel Bates as follows:

    The Colonel Bates Pattern is Hook-red tag-silver-Throat-brown

    Streamers-1 long yellow-2 short white (about 3/8" shorter than yellow)

    Shoulder-Light Mallard-Jungle cock

    Head-red-black band

Notice the reference here to the streamers. Streamers were actually the feathers that streamed out behind the fly, what we would now call the wing. We now call the entire fly a streamer, but originally, they were just the feathers that gave the minnow-like look to what was just another fly. I think the latter makes much more sense, but have a feeling that I'm 60-70 years too late to have this changed now. This fly is also frequently tied with teal at the shoulder, and I've done that here. Carrie Stevens had just one yellow feather in the wing, but typically her flies were assembled as glued sides. Now maybe she meant that each SIDE has on yellow and two white feathers, I'm not sure. I've done mine with one white and one yellow per side. Next week I'll show the Jimmy Younger salmon fly version.

Credits: Carrie Stevens: Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies by Graydon R. Hilyard and Leslie K. Hilyard. ~ 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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