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?

Indian Rock

Indian Rock
By Eric Austin, Ohio

This will be the last of the series of flies from the Rangeley Region of Maine. I had originally intended to extend the series to the featherwing streamers for which the region is best known, but I find that virtually all of them are already represented here in the archive of Old Flies. So I will move my focus to the flies of the Adirondacks soon, but a few words about the streamers of the Rangeley Region are in order first.

By the turn of the century, the wet flies had become more and more "streamer-like" in the area, that is to say larger, more like minnow imitations rather than insect facsimiles, and it was a matter of time before the streamer of today was developed. Two individuals were more responsible for this than any others. They were Herbert L. (Herbie) Welch and Carrie Stevens. Herbie arrived in the area in 1904, and worked initially as a guide in the region. He invented his own flies for clients and soon the Black Ghost, Welch Rarebit (a brilliantly named fly I think), Green Spot, Jane Craig, and Kennebago came into existence. They featured a feather wing, angled up at around 45 degrees or so, the wing tied directly on top of the hook. This design, while quite good, was to be improved upon dramatically by Carrie Stevens.

Carrie and Wallace Stevens arrived in the region around 1917. By this time Herbie Welch had a shop, and over time he and Carrie became friends. Carrie made flies with no vise, had absolutely no training, and had never even seen anyone tie a fly. None of these things stopped her, and she would go on to create one of the greatest American flies, the Gray Ghost. This fly is still used very effectively today. Carrie went on to sell her flies throughout the region, and eventually around the world. The big difference between her flies and the streamers of Herbie Welch was the attitude of the wings. Hers were assembled as glued sides, and tied in along the sides of the body, rather than on top of the hook. There were many other subtle things she did to get her flies to realistically imitate minnows, and the Gray Ghost is still one of the best shad imitations one can use. Herbie Welch, when asked to name the top two flies to use in the region, named Carrie Stevens' Gray Ghost as number one, and his own Black Ghost as number two, not insignificant praise from the inventor of the streamer. It has been said that Herbert Welch invented the streamer, and Carrie Stevens perfected it, and I think history has born this out.

View from Indian Rock

Now off to Indian Rock! The engraving above, found in Charles A. J. Farrar's book Through the Wilds, shows a view from Indian Rock of Camp Kennebago, home of the Oquossoc Angling Association. The rock itself is located on the shores of Mooselookmeguntic, at the outlet of Kennebago River on the south side. This view is looking across the Kennebago, at the Oquossoc club on the north shore of the river.

The rock was an old Indian meeting ground, and is still a hub of activity on Mooselookmeguntic today. The original managers of the club tried to retain "all the charming semi-aboriginal character in their camps, grounds, and appointments" according to Farrar. I got quite a kick out of this sentence in his description: "There are good accommodations for ladies at Camp Kennebago during the months of July and August, as at that time there are very few members of the Association in the camp. " Of course, they weren't in the camp because July and August were the height of the black fly season. I'm just speaking for myself here, but none of this would fly with my wife for two seconds today. But this was a time when women didn't even have the vote, and were barred from many men's clubs and associations all together. I'm sure the July and August policy was considered quite enlightened at the time. My wife would view this differently.

As for the Indian Rock fly, I would suggest attempting to dress this one only after long experience with married wings. It is simply a miserable fly to tie. I wasn't completely happy with the version pictured above, but simply could not put myself through the ordeal of trying to do another one. One of the hallmarks of a good fly is ease of dressing, and this fly fails that test completely. But if you like a challenge, all I can say is, here's the recipe, have at it!

Indian Rock

    Tip: Silver tinsel

    Tail: Mallard over crimson

    Body: Peacock herl

    Hackle: Crimson tied palmer

    Wing: Gray mallard and crimson

Credits: Camp Life in the Wilderness by Capt. Charles A. J. Farrar; Through the Wilds by Capt. Charles A. J. Farrar; Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. Hilyard; Trout by Ray Bergman; ~ 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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