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 today's 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

When I think of the Rangeley region in Maine, I naturally think of streamers and Carrie Stevens. Surprisingly enough, there was considerable fishing there long before Carrie and her husband Wallace appeared on the scene in 1919. The legendary brook trout were abundant on the chain before Mrs. Stevens had ever tied a single streamer, and the wet fly was king. Herbert L. Welch was tying feather wing streamers there starting in 1903 though, and ultimately this style of fly would dominate. You may be familiar with one of Mr. Welch's early streamers, the Black Ghost.

It is my intent to bring a series of the large and beautiful wet flies from this region to our pages here in the next few weeks. Many of these flies were trolled behind row boats and were fished as minnow imitations. The flies were very often named after the lakes, many of which still had their Abenaki Indian names in the late 1800s. Starting at the top of the chain of lakes was Oquossoc ("landing place"), which was to become Rangely Lake, then Mollychunkemunk ("crooked water") which became the upper Richardson, then Welokennebacook ("red water"), which was renamed lower Richardson. I'm pleased to report that Mooselookmeguntic and Cupsuptic lakes still retain their original names. In the case of the Oquossoc, there was a fly named for it as well as one named for the lake it later became, Rangeley. Most of the lakes had flies named for them, including Mooselookmeguntic, Cupsuptic, Mollychunkemunk and Oquossoc. This holds true for many flies originated in the state of Maine, including the Parmachene Belle, Kineo, New Lake, Kennebago, and B. Pond.

I think many of us view dams as destructive to fishing and the environment generally. It seems as if the dams that were built in the 1800s in this area actually benefitted the fishing, creating habitat that resulted in some absolutely huge brook trout. To get an idea of the impact this kind of fishing had, consider this paragraph written by Joe Bates' son Bruce, about a trip the family made to Upper Dam in 1942:

"It was tradition to take the newly arrived guests to the sawmill under the downstream side of the dam. On the lower level there was a trapdoor in the floor, and when opened it exposed the huge trout that cruised in the backwater underneath the dam. The combination of the size of the trout, the darkness of the sawmill, and the roaring of the water raging through the dam was thrilling but scary for a 10-year-old. Particularly as some of the fish looked almost as long as I was tall."

Ten pound brook trout were not uncommon, so fishing was, as you can imagine, quite good. Here is the recipe for the Rangeley to get us started, with more flies from the region to come in future articles:

Rangeley #1 (pictured above)

    Tail: Scarlet and wood duck

    Ribbing: Gold tinsel

    Body: Claret dubbing

    Hackle: Claret palmered over body

    Wing: Barred wood duck; scarlet and turkey strips

Rangeley #2

    Tail: Yellow fibers

    Body: Orange floss

    Hackle: Claret palmered over body

    Wing: Gray turkey and mallard

Rangely #3 (Bergman)

    Tip: Gold tinsel

    Tail: Orange

    Ribbing: Gold tinsel

    Body: Light claret dubbing

    Hackle: Orange shoulder, light claret palmered over body

    Wing: Gray mallard, jungle cock eye

Credits: Trout by Ray Bergman; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. Hilyard. ~ EA

About Eric:

Eric Eric lives in Delaware, Ohio and fishes for brown trout in the Mad River, a beautiful spring creek. More of his flies are on display here: Traditionalflies.com -- Classic salmon and trout flies of Europe and the Americas.

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