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 Dawson

By Eric Austin, Ohio

Mikael Frodin holds this fly up as a prime example of a "mixed wing" fly. George Kelson, who liked to think of himself as the inventor of the mixed wing, used this married wing technique in many flies, and promoted it in a number of articles in The Fishing Gazette in 1883 and 1884. The idea was to take sections of wings from different birds, marry them together, lefts to lefts and rights to rights, thereby creating two wings that would be tied on the fly simultaneously. This idea was taken quite seriously by the angling public in Great Britain, and the idea spread like wildfire. In 1888 Kelson made the technique ever more difficult by specifying that just one fiber at a time be used to form a section, then those sections joined together in multiples to form a wing. In other words, he would take individual fibers from say, four left hand feathers from four different birds, marry them, an then repeat the process, typically four times, and join those sections together to form a wing.

Now, there is another facet of this whole mixed wing thing that Kelson tries to explain in "The Salmon Fly." He talks about a technique in there where he grabs individual fibers from various birds, lays them in his hand, lays another bunch next to that one, then another next to that, and then ties the whole thing on at once somehow, forming a wing. I've seen a couple of renditions of this technique done on some web sites, and the effect is a bit wild. So we are left with the question of what constitutes a "mixed wing" really. Some say that it is any fly with a golden pheasant tippet under-wing with a married wing over that. Frodin gives examples like the Dawson, Floodtide, Black and Gold, Silver Doctor, and Gordon. These flies are all over the map under-wing-wise, some having golden pheasant tippet, others having white-tipped turkey, and some, like the Dawson, having no under-wing at all. I personally don't pretend to know. I use to think that a built-wing fly had sections of wings built over each other, i.e. an under-wing of white tipped turkey, a main wing, and a roof, and a mixed wing fly had one big wing comprised of married sections, like the Thunder and Lightning from Pryce Tannatt, but that's clearly wrong. It's wrong because Kelson talks about creating "skins" for mixed wing flies, outer skins made from shorter feathers like teal, wood duck, gallina, etc. These go over the main wing "skin," which is comprised of married sections, which in turn go over the inner skin, or underwing, which is also made up of married slips. All of this made up a mixed wing fly. One would assume then that if the fly has married components, it's a mixed wing fly. What's absolutely right however is murky at best. All the techniques for winging ultimately became blurred together, with "mixed wings" being put on traditional built-wing flies, so in the end, nobody really knows what's what.

The Dawson was the creation of Kennet Dawson, and was also known as the Baron Dawson. It was a favorite of Kelson's, though was not a fly commonly used on most rivers. It's not one of the mainstream flies that lots of tiers do these days, and that makes it a little more interesting I think. If you'd like to try this one, here's the recipe:

The Dawson

    Tag: Silver twist and yellow silk.

    Tail: A topping and chatterer.

    Butt: Black ostrich herl.

    Body: In two equal sections of silver tinsel, butted at center with Indian crow and black ostrich herl.

    Ribs: Silver tinsel (oval).

    Throat: Indian crow, repeated as above, and light blue hackle.

    Wings: Light mottled turkey, yellow macaw, golden pheasant tail, teal, powdered blue macaw, ibis, dark mottled turkey, grey mallard: mallard and a topping.

    Horns: Blue macaw.

    Head: Black ostrich herl (dispensed with in Hardy, it's just listed as "black") .

Credits: The Salmon Fly by George Kelson; Salmon Fishing by John James Hardy; Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin; Tying the Classic Salmon Fly by Michael D. Radencich. ~ 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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