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

The Hamlin is a fly that was named for S.S Hamlin, a fly fisherman featured in a book called Bodines; of Camping on the Lycoming. The author, Thad S. Up De Graff, M.D., is widely thought to be the inventor of the fly, but it may have been Hamlin himself. Let me tell you a little bit about Bodines.

I've been aware of this book for some time, mention of it having been made in Mary Orvis Marbury's Favorite Flies. It finally became available to me, and it's quite a hoot. Basically, it's a detailed account of a camping trip, or perhaps several trips blended into one narrative, made by Thad Up De Graff and his partner in crime Hamlin, to the wilds of Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Hamlin is the experienced expert fly fisherman, and catches fish like crazy wherever they go. De Graff is in awe of his abilities, but over the course of the book becomes adept himself.

So what, you may ask, are the Bodines? I myself thought they were a small mountain range somewhere in Appalachia, but no, they are not. They are a family that is settled throughout the region in which these gentlemen fish, and a little Googling proved to me that they are still there. The book is named for the family, who helped De Graff and Hamlin out early in their experiences.

The book begins with a chapter on equipment needed for one of these safaris, including detailed instructions on how to make a tent. You didn't just go out and buy a tent in those days, you made one out of dry goods. You also, if serious about the thing, made your own rod as well, and there is a great discussion of wood preference in this chapter. Bamboo doesn't fare very well, as it takes a set and doesn't hold up well to the rigors of camping, at least, not camping the way these guys do it. In any case, eventually you get to the On the Stream chapter, where the beauties of our pasttime are described in vivid detail. De Graff describes a full day camping here, and it's a wonderful chapter. After fishing all day, the gentlemen are in their hammocks, smoking pipes and chatting. They take to the canoe after 5pm, and this scene ensues:

Floating listlessly along in the cool shade of the great mountain, how peacefully quiet is all nature about us! not a breath of air ruffles the fair pool or disturbs a leaf on the hillside. Even the birds are quiet, for they, too, are taking their evening siesta. Silently the shadows are creeping up the sides of the western mountain, the sombre hues below intensifying the brilliancy of the grand old hemlocks lighted up with the golden rays of the setting sun. Soon they, too, fall into shadow, and then we bestir ourselves to throw for the large trout, now upon the lookout for the multitude of flies and moths that disport themselves upon the surface of the water as the evening shadows entice them out.

We have not long to wait, for just under a shelving rock a "bright fox" has fallen into the water and is flapping his gauzy wings right vigorously to regain the airy regions. Immediately we see a boiling in the smooth water, which sends out circle after circle of gentle wavelets until broken against the sides of our canoe. I turn the bow, and, with a light sweep of the paddle, place my companion within reaching distance of the spot. One throw of his graceful line, and, before the deceptive fly fairly light upon the water, the old trout has left his retreat and bounded into the air, grasping the morsel within his jaws.

Bright Fox One

Bright Fox Two

I've done two Bright Foxes above, the first one from Mary Orvis Marbury, the second Ray Bergman. They were part of a group of flies representing the family Ephemeridae, order Neuroptera, which included the Dark Fox, Poor Man's Fly, Red Fox and Bright Fox. They appear in the middle of April and hatch all summer, leaving me to guess that these are sulphurs in today's verbiage. There was no real classifications regarding specific American mayflies back then, just sort of nebulous generalities. The descriptions I've found of some insects are from Sarah J. McBride in the book Sportman's Gazetteer by Charles Hallock, published in 1880.

Getting back to Bodines, much of the book includes the humor and high jinx that always seem to be a part of these camping trips. One chapter is called "Fly Casting for Trout, Squirrels, Deer, and other Game". You can see where this is going. Hamlin would cast at or for anything within the range of his line, and as he was an expert caster, would typically hook whatever it was, reptile, mammal, or fowl. Now if I didn't have a friend and fishing companion, who shall remain nameless (Bruce Copeland), I might have found Hamlin's hooking of a deer far fetched. However, since I've seen Bruce in action for many years now, I completely believe these stories, as crazy as they may seem. Here's an artist's interpretation of Hamlin hooking, and not landing, a deer.

Hamlin's Deer

Here's the exchange between De Graff and Hamlin after the deer got off:

"...well, confound him! He didn't get my reel, anyhow!"

"Why didn't you give him the butt?" I inquired.

"Gracious! I gave him all my line and leader; I thought that enough for one time."

"If you could only have held him a little longer, I might have had my landing-net under him."

I must say something in defense of my friend Bruce here, and I will stipulate that, to my knowledge, he's never hooked a deer. But on the other hand, you put a bison in a stream with Bruce, and he'll be casting for it.

Bodines, by today's standards, is not the epitome of political correctness. But it was a different time, and one must judge it by those standards, not today's. There is some out and out racism at times, and some real condescension regarding the poor dirt farmers of the area. But get past that and it's a marvelous look at camping, with all the kidding around that goes on between friends, and great homage paid to the beauty and wonder of the experience.

Thad S. Up De Graff, M.D. pays tribute to his long-time friend in the beginning of the book with a full-page inscription:

To S.S. Hamlin, Esq., My Constant Companion in he Scenes Herein Described, IN MEMORY OF THE MANY HAPPY DAYS IN CAMP AND STREAM This volume is affectionately inscribed by his friend, THE AUTHOR. Elmira, Jun, 1879.

As solitary a pursuit as fly fishing may be, the friendships made along the way are everything.


    Tip: Silver tinsel

    Tail: White tipped mallard

    Body: Heron quill

    Hackle: Black hen

    Wing: White

Bright Fox One

    Tail: Dun

    Body: Fox dyed yellow, picked out

    Wing: Slate gray duck

Bright Fox two

    Tip: Gold tinsel

    Tail: Brown hackle

    Body: Yellow floss

    Hackle: Brown hen

    Wing: White

Credits: Bodines by Thad S. Up De Graff, M.D.; Sportman's Gazetteer by Charles Hallock; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Trout by Ray Bergman; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; ~ 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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