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 fly has great interest for me, in that it appears to be the prototype for Pryce-Tannatt's flies. Dr. Tannatt's dressings, which came much later than Francis Francis or Kelson's, were as a rule quite complicated, typically having a married wood duck/teal combination tied in under the sides, sides of jungle cock and cheeks of chatterer, horns of blue macaw, and a mallard roof. In short, he throws in everything but the kitchen sink. This is one of the few flies listed in Kelson or Hardy and Hale that does the very same thing, leading me to believe that Dr. Tannatt liked the complicated nature of this particular fly, and emulated it in his own versions of the standard flies of the day.

I've gone so far here as to show Pryce-Tannatt's version of the fly, though it differs only in small ways from Kelson's. There is a bit of chatterer in the tail (hard to see in this photo), but other than that, the fly is the same save the ostrich herl that Kelson includes at the head. Pryce-Tannatt finishes his with plain black silk.

The gaudy salmon flies of the second half of the nineteenth century became more and more complex as time went on, as fly dressers attempted to outdo each other. The ultimate examples come from Dr. Pryce-Tannatt, who tied in the early 1900s, after Kelson had passed from the scene. There is some controversy regarding his work, and there is little doubt that he changed some flies for the worse, though not all. His version of the Gordon is highly regarded for example, and considered the standard rendition. It's all quite subjective after all. I've foregone my typically complicated wing here, thinking that this fly is quite complicated enough as it is. Like many of Pryce-Tannatt's flies, this one's a challenge. Here's the recipe, from Ron Alcott:

Here are all three recipes:


    Tip: Oval silver tinsel.

    Tag: Ruby floss.

    Tail: Golden pheasant crest.

    Tail Veiling: Indian crow substitute, and blue chatterer (kingfisher).

    Butt: Black ostrich herl.

    Ribs: Fine oval silver tinsel in each body section.

    Body:<;/b> In two equal halves. First half is flat narrow silver tinsel butted with black ostrich herl and veiled above and below with Indian crow; second half is black floss.

    Throat: European Jay (Guinea in other recipes).

    Wings: Golden pheasant tippet in strand for the underwing. Married strips of scarlet, blue, and yellow swan; florican; speckled bustard; gray turkey tail; and golden pheasant tail.

    Wing Veiling: Married strips of teal and barred wood duck. Strips of bronze mallard as a roofing.

    Cheeks: Jungle cock, followed by blue chatterer (kingfisher).

    Crest: Golden pheasant crest.

    Horns: Blue-and-yellow macaw.

    Head: Black.

Credits: How to Dress Salmon Flies by T.E. Pryce-Tannatt; Tying the Classic Salmon Fly by Michael D. Radencich; Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin; Building Classic Salmon Flies by Ron Alcott. ~ 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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