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

I'm going to take a short break from my series on the Rangeley Region of Maine. I tied this fly a couple of weeks back, and really liked it. Like so many flies in the Bergman book Trout it appeared to have no history available in any of my books, and not much to write about. A couple of days ago I stumbled on it again and decided to see what I could come up with via some other research avenues I've been using of late for the Rangeley series. I've come up with quite a bit.

Initially all I could find on the name Cassin was an ornithologist John Cassin from the mid 1800s, and it was something of a stretch to think that a fly would be named for an ornithologist from Philadelphia. That said, I did find a mention of him in Henshall's Book of the Black Bass, but only in a general scientific way. However, I eventually stumbled on another link between the words "trout" and "Cassin" that may give clues to the origin of this fly.

I found a Fort Cassin, the ruins of which are located at the mouth of Otter Creek near Vergennes, Vermont where it empties into Lake Champlain. This fort was built by the Americans to protect Commodore MacDonough's fleet of ships that were being built for the War of 1812. MacDonough's ship, the Saratoga, was constructed in just 40 days from local forest. I believe the fort was named for Commodore John Cassin, not the ornithologist, and his son Lt. Steven Cassin was named by MacDonough in a letter as having "ably assisted" in a battle at the mouth of Otter Creek. MacDonough went on to thoroughly route the British fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh, across Lake Champlain in New York, where a monument to his victory was built after World War One. I am, coincidentally enough, from Plattsburgh myself, and found this old postcard on-line, courtesy of Debbie Labarre:

MacDonough Monument

So where is the tie-in with fly fishing here? Well, in a book from 2002 called Trout Fishing near American Cities, author Ann McIntosh lists Otter Creek and its tributaries as having brook trout. Lake Dunmore in the area had lake trout, according to History of the Town of Middlebury, in the County of Addison, Vermont by Samuel Swift. There was lots of fishing in the area. In 1819 though, the trout fishing in Otter Creek had dwindled to nothing due to over-harvesting. In a letter to Samuel Swift from W.P. Russell, Russell details some things he and some others had done to fix that. They went to Lake Champlain and seined a large number of pickerel off one of the points. Then they dumped them into Otter Creek. The pickerel seemed to be doing well according to Russell, and all would now benefit. Remarkably, the pickerel didn't seem to harm the brook trout long term, and in 1877 Charles Hallock's Sportsman's Gazetteer and General Guide reported good trout fishing in Otter Creek.

So after hours of research, where does all this leave us? On the one hand I have a highly respected, world renown ornithologist, John Cassin, known to naturalists everywhere, and mentioned by Dr. Henshall in his book on black bass. On the other, I have a trout stream near a fort named for a famous Commodore, another John Cassin. I'm convinced the fly was named for one or the other, but which one? In truth, I don't know, but I'll say this. The Cassin is a brook trout fly if I've ever seen one. The ONLY references I've seen to it in fly tying literature are in Trout by Bergman (which doesn't contain bass flies) and Flies by Leonard, where it is found only in the wet flies section, not the bass section. This leads me to believe that it is indeed a trout fly. If the fly is from Vermont though, why was it not included in Mary Orvis Marbury's book? Perhaps the contributors didn't include those knowledgeable about the fly, or maybe the fly had not been invented yet. I'm finding that research begets more research, and in looking for the origin of this fly, I stumbled on the possible origin of another, the Loyal Sock, which was probably named for Loyalsock Creek in Pa. Regardless of the origin of the Cassin, it's one very pretty fly, and fairly easy to tie, so give it a go. Here's the recipe:


    Tip: Gold tinsel

    Tail: Peacock sword and scarlet

    Ribbing: Gold tinsel

    Body: Yellow floss

    Hackle: Brown hen

    Wing: Yellow

    Note: J. Edson Leonard has the wing as black-white tip dyed yellow. Could the black-white tipped feathers have come from a Cassin Finch? I doubt it actually, as the range of that bird is around the West Coast, and the bird does not appear to have black feathers with white tips. I only mention this to further cloud the issue.

Credits: Trout Fishing near American Cities by Ann McIntosh; History of the town of Middlebury, in the County of Addison, Vermont by Samuel Swift; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Trout by Ray Bergman; Bulletin of the Essex Institute by Essex Institute; Sportsman's Gazetteer and General Guide by Charles Hallock; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Book of the Black Bass by James A. Henshall, M.D.; The Historical Register of the United States, the government of the U.S.; http://www.clintoncountygov.com/photogallery.htm , postcard from Debbie Labarre. ~ 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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