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?


Whirling Blue Dun

Whirling Blue Dun
By Eric Austin, Ohio


I've just returned from a wonderful weekend in the Catskills. I can't remember when I've been around a better group of people than I was at the Clearwater Junction weekend, sponsored by the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers. The members, tiers and fishermen in attendance were just great. Roy Christie came over from England, Allan Podell, Mark Libertone, Andy Brasko, and Catskill John were there, old on-line friends all, and I simply had the time of my life.

I was very excited when I learned Friday evening that Art Lee was going to be there. Somewhere along the line I've apparently memorized entire chapters of his book Fishing Dry Flies, and it wasn't until I had it in my hands again that I realized that Art Lee basically taught me how to fly fish. It was quite a thrill to meet him after all these years, and he was very kind to me over the two-day event.

I made other new friends as well. The dean of the realistic tiers Bob Mead was there, and he and his friend Buffalo Bill Newcomb took me under their wing and helped me through the show. These guys are show veterans, and I was hanging on their every word. It was Buffalo Bill who suggested that I tie a Whirling Blue Dun this week. I mentioned that I really wanted to do a Catskill fly, but that most had been done, and he said "What about the Whirling Blue Dun?" I of course remembered the fly well, and sure enough, it hadn't been done, so here it is. Thanks Bill.

This fly was something of a forerunner to the Hendricksons, which largely supplanted it once they came along. It is also mentioned with the Dark Watchet or Iron Blue Dun in some texts. It's a beautifully named fly, and was one of my favorites growing up. There's an old English fly called the Little Whirling Blue that's quite similar. There are two different American versions, one with dun hackle and tail, and one with ginger hackle and tail. Some dispense with the ribbing and tip as well, but I remember the fly having ribbing, so I've done that with mine shown here.

I had never set foot in Roscoe before this weekend, but for me, it was like coming home. As a teen I read book after book about the region, and I was not disappointed in the least once I finally made it there after dreaming about it all those years. And while the rivers are gorgeous, out of a fairy tale really, it's the people there that I'll remember the most. The place is imbued with the history and traditions of our pastime, but it's the people who carry them forward. I so look forward to visiting again. Here's the recipe for the Whirling Blue Dun:

Whirling Blue Dun

    Hook: Standard dry fly, 8-16

    Tip: Flat gold tinsel.

    Tail: Blue dun hackle.

    Ribbing: Flat gold tinsel.

    Wing: Dark gray mallard.

    Body: Muskrat or Mink dubbing.

    Hackle: Blue dun.

Credits: Trout by Ray Bergman; English Trout Flies by W.H. Lawrie; Fish Flies by Terry Hellekson ~ 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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