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?

The Evangeline

The Evangeline
By Eric Austin, Ohio

A safer pilot through the shoals and quicksands of the art than Major Traherne, or a more experienced and practical exponent of its mysteries, cannot be found within the 'three seas that girth Britain.' So says H. Cholmondeley-Pennell regarding the depth of knowledge of Major Traherne as it pertained to salmon in his book Fishing from 1906. He thought so much of Traherne's expertise that he included an article by him in his book, the title of which was Salmon Fishing with the Fly.

I found Traherne's article quite interesting and went right to the "flies" section. When I think of Traherne I think of his collection of patterns, one of which is the Evangeline shown above, which feature large full feather wings, typically made from macaw or parrot covert feather pairs. Sure enough, in his article he talks about fishing the Shannon, and its corresponding fly the Shannon, which features large wings made from macaw coverts. Later in the article he says, "Although big, gaudy flies are only suitable for big rivers, I see no reason why they should not kill as well as any other pattern upon smaller rivers, provided they are made of a suitable size. I have said success greatly depends upon the size of the fly used, and to judge the proper size is a most important part in the art of salmon fishing."

He doesn't limit himself to full wing flies at all though. "Large, gaudy flies, such as are used on the Shannon, are not suitable for ordinary-sized rivers, and are only good for fishing in deep rapids of big rivers, where they are more likely to attract the attention of fish than flies of more sombre or neutral colour." Here's what he had to say about mixed wing flies: "Bought flies are generally made with too much feather in the wing ; this is a great mistake, especially in the case of a mixed wing. If the wing is too heavy the fly cannot work properly ; every fibre of a mixed wing should be separate in the water, and, if the angler does his work properly, made to assume a natural and lifelike appearance."

Finally, Major Traherne has this to say about fly tying, and it mirrors my own feelings on the subject so I will include the paragraph in its entirety: "Fly tying is a very important part of the art of salmon fishing, and doubtless to be able to tie one's own flies enhances the pleasure of the sport. I have heard it said that a man cannot rank as a first-class fisherman unless he can do so; but I think this is hardly fair. Many people's fingers are 'all thumbs,' and they could not tie a fly in a year of Sundays, as the saying goes; other salmon fishers are professional men, and have no time to spare from their duties. These may be first-rate fishermen, although not able to tie a fly, and would loudly protest against being placed in a secondary position on this account. It might just as well be said that to rank in the first class a fisherman should be able to make his own rods and reels, yet there is not one in a thousand that can do so. Fly tying is a most interesting, and I might almost say exciting occupation, and many a dull rainy day, during the winter months especially, may be thus pleasantly, and as far as salmon-fishing matters are concerned profitably, passed. Doubtless a man will feel much prouder when he has landed a fish with a fly of his own making, than with one he had bought, and I would recommend every fisherman who has the time to spare to try his hand at it."

Evangeline, the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was written in 1853. The fly is no doubt a tribute to that work as Major Traherne spent quite a bit of time in Nova Scotia (Acadia) fly fishing. It's a beautiful pattern for a beautiful poem. Here's the recipe:


    Tag: Silver tinsel and topping colored silk

    Tail: A topping

    Butt: Black ostrich herl

    Body: In four equal sections. First two: silver tinsel with two blue chatterer substitutes above and below, back to back with black herl butts. Third and fourth: Indian crow red and red claret silks, with Indian crow substitutes above and below as before and butted as before.

    Ribs: Fine oval silver tinsel over the front two sections only.

    Hackle: Golden yellow

    Throat: A pair of Jay points back to back

    Wings: Yellow macaw feathers (from the blue macaw) and a topping over all.

    Cheeks: Summer duck

    Horns: Red macaw

    Head: Black herl

Credits: Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin; Salmon Fishing by John James Hardy.

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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