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?


By Eric Austin, Ohio

This is a fly from Ray Bergman's book Trout. It's somewhat nondescript, along the lines of the better-known Parmachene Belle, Lake George, or Ibis and White. The red and white color combination must have been magic for the brook trout of the day, there were so many variations on this theme.

I decided to make things a little more interesting this time out and tie this fly in hand, or without a vise. I did use a bobbin, and scissors, but no additional tools. I could have done without the bobbin as well, but would have had to resort to hackle pliers then to use as a weight on the thread at times. Though I used no bobbin when I started tying, it was a long time ago, and I find I'm something of a slave to that tool now, and am simply used to it. It's a little more difficult to hold the hook securely with the weight of the bobbin, but for me, it's worth it.

I've tied some flies off and on over the last few years in hand like this, and find it to be an interesting exercise. It's very freeing in a way. I like being able to park myself in front of the TV and watch a playoff game downstairs, not having to be chained to my tying table in the spare bedroom. Awhile back I did a large number of married wing wet flies for an ad agency in town (a long story). After about a couple hundred I got so bored I began to do them in hand, so I could get out of the room. It was quite difficult at first, even though I had Kelson's The Salmon Fly at my disposal, which has a wonderful tutorial. I found though that after a little practice I could do it.

I've practiced quite a bit of late; this picture will give you some idea.

Practice flies

For every one shown I've probably tied three or four others, just in the last couple of weeks, ones that didn't survive the razor blade. I've been trying to get them up to the caliber of the ones I can do in the vise, and though I'm not quite there, I'm getting closer. Certain things mounting wings in particular, seem to be much easier to do, while other things that are easy to do with a vise are more difficult in hand, like winding hackle and body materials. These are large flies, and as you get smaller, things get much more difficult.

I've read that Lee Wulff could tie down to size 20 in hand, and one of these days I'll have to give that a whirl. Right now though, these #6 wet flies are all the challenge I need. I'll put up a full dress fly here one of these days that I've done in hand. I've done one already, but I won't be showing anyone that fly any time soon. In the meantime, here's the recipe for the Premier, in case you'd like to give tying in hand a whirl!

The Premier

    Tail: Scarlet.

    Tip: Gold tinsel.

    Ribbing: Gold tinsel.

    Body: Scarlet floss.

    Hackle: Scarlet.

    Wings: White with scarlet stripe.

Credits: Trout by Ray Bergman; The Salmon Fly by George Kelson. ~ 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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