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 Beaconsfield
By Eric Austin, Ohio

This fly is one of a group of short-lived flies from Ireland known as "maned" flies. The manes were made of mohair tied along the top of the body, and the most notable of the group was a fly called the Owenmore, one I hope to bring to FAOL soon. The Beaconsfield is attributed to George Blacklaws, in 1870, right around the time these flies were popular.

I found the mohair somewhat difficult to work with, in that it got caught up in nearly everything on the fly from the hackle to the horns. Mohair tends to be "all over the place" and it was difficult for me to tame. One can consider these flies to be a precursor to our modern-day hair-wings, and trust me; hair-wings are an improvement, at least as far as manageability is concerned. I like the stately look of the body on the Beaconsfield, and it's one that I've always had in the back of my mind to do. I never seemed to have the necessary colors of mohair until I finally bought a selection from William Bailey in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Mr. Bailey does a wonderful job with natural dying of various wool products, including pig's wool, Berlin wool, and mohair, and his materials are a full dress fly tier's dream.

I've endeavored to make a fly this time with a bit more proportional wing than the last couple. The high wings are a very American trend with these flies, and I'm very American. Full dress flies have areas that tend to get exaggerated over time. We've gone from the big high wings now and graduated to the big fat bodies on a lot of these. These are style trends that come and go over time. I've looked at many antique flies and I for the life of me can't find a standard there. Some DO have big fat bodies, some very slender as Francis Francis recommended, some have very low wings, and some have big high wings. I think it comes down to doing what feels right for you, within reason. If there are rules, and many feel there are, I'm hard pressed to find them documented anywhere, at least in the old books. Anyway, if you'd like a go at the Beaconsfield and have some mohair kicking around, here's the recipe:

The Beaconsfield

    Tag: Silver tinsel and yellow floss.

    Tail: A topping, teal and ibis.

    Butt: Black herl, followed by two turns of silver tinsel.

    Body: In three equal parts: first and second doubly butted; first part of yellow floss with a yellow mane (mohair), black herl and two turns of silver tinsel. Second: red-orange floss with a red-orange mane (mohair), black herl and two turns of silver tinsel. Third: claret floss.

    Throat: Light blue hackle.

    Wings: Two tippets, veiled with golden pheasant tail, light and dark mottled turkey, bustard, teal, yellow, red and blue swan; mallard and a topping.

    Horns: Blue macaw.

    Head: Black.

Credits: The Salmon Fly by George Kelson; Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin, ~ 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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