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?


Ginger Quill

Ginger Quill Dry
By Eric Austin, Ohio


The Ginger Quill was a mainstay when I fished in the '60s, along with its counterpart, the Quill Gordon. I've always been partial to quill-body dry flies, and have generally over the years preferred them to the more popular dubbed-body ones. To me, the segmentation just seems more pronounced, and the body more slender, and the fly has a neater appearance. Now many fly fishermen, better fly fisherman than I, take the entirely opposite view. They don't want a neat fly, they want a "buggy" fly, with translucence in the body, one that provides the illusion of life in the water, a less realistic fly that triggers strikes from the fish through impressionistic means. Both schools of thought have some merit, and both body styles catch fish. In my own case, I just seem to have had better luck with the quill bodies, where dry flies are concerned. I'm a devote' of Flick's Red Quill, and the quill bodies of A.K. Best. I fish spring creeks quite a bit, and maybe that explains some of it.

What brought the Ginger Quill to mind this week was a selection of incredible stripped peacock herl quills sent to me by Alice Conba. For those of you that don't know Alice, she is, in my humble opinion, one of the great fly tiers in the world. She has consummate mastery over techniques and materials, and skills that boggle the mind. She brings incredible creativity to the table, but the one thing that really sets her apart is her backlog of knowledge, born of decades of experience, study, and trial and error. She appears to know absolutely everything, and I have no evidence to the contrary. In any case, it's a delight to just be able correspond with a tier of her caliber, and though she's in Ireland and I'm here in Ohio, today's internet makes that a possibility. Alice's generosity and good heart make that a possibility as well, and I'm forever in her debt.

Alice strips her peacock eyes using a technique shown to her by Hans Weilenmann. I've also heard Alan Podell, our man in the Catskills, speak of this method, and it's one he's used for some time as well. You melt some paraffin, or wax, in a saucepan, and dip the eye in for just a moment, then pull it right out and dry it on paper towels, taking off the excess wax. Don't do what I did, which was leave it in for some time, waiting for all the fluff to come off, as it does when I bleach them. If you'd like a nice, permanent, waxed replica of your eye, do it my way, but if you'd like to actually do some fly tying with your eye, do it Alice's. You are left with an eye that has a wax film on it. Now, when you take a quill off the eye and strip the wax off, which is much easier to do with a waxed eye, the fluff comes with it, leaving a soft, pliable quill that's a breeze to wrap.

So how does Alice get the amazing segmentation, that black edge that when wrapped looks like you've gone around the body with black thread? She does it by selecting out eyes, purely and simply. She buys peacock eyes 100 at a time, then selects out the eyes best suited for quill bodies. Whether she strips a single quill from an eye, and looks for the dark stripe along the edge, or can just tell using her experience which eyes are good for quill bodies, I don't know. I would imagine that eyes darker on one side than the other would make the best stripped quills, but I'll have to do more playing around to prove this. In any case, you must use quills from the eye to get segmentation, and because the quills are smaller in diameter, use just the wider end of the quill for your fly. You'll only get one fly out of one of these quills.

Can you use stripped hackle quills, a la A.K. Best for the Ginger Quill? Certainly. As a matter of fact, up until the fly for this article, I tied all my Ginger Quills that way. I'm becoming a little more partial to stripped peacock quills now that I've seen some of Alice's though. But they both work just fine. Here's the recipe for the Ginger Quill shown above:

    Wings: Mallard.

    Tail: Ginger hackle fibers.

    Body: Stripped peacock herl.

    Hackle: Ginger.

The recipe for the wet version shown below is the same.

Wet Version

Credits: Flies by J. Edson Leonard, Alice Conba, Tipperary Town, Ireland ~ EA

About Eric:

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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