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 todays 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 . .

Part Eighty-four

Whiskey & Soda

Whiskey & Soda

By LadyFisher

In days long since past, the Whiskey and Soda drifted over summer run steelhead in once famous pools with names like Blue Rock, Stovepipe, Blaney's Cribbing, Crown Creek, Upper and Lower Darling and Snake Ranch (or Whiskey Ranch as some called it.) These names are unfamiliar to most present-day steelhead fishermen. All these runs disappeared when the upper Capilano River Valley, behind the Cleveland Dam, was flooded in 1954.

Although the history of this province's steelhead fly-fishing is short, few know that this province's first steelhead dry fly - the Whiskey & Soda - was developed in the 1920's for the Capilano summer-runs by Austin Spencer, the local game warden. However the naming of the fly remained a mystery until I asked Bob Taylor.

He got the story from one of the Capilano's frist generation of fly fishermn. Bob met Bill Cunliffe in the early 1950s and during one of their many conversations, Cunliffe explained that the Whiskey & Soda got its name from Black and White scotch whiskey, the favoured drink of Capilano fly fishermen. On the label of the dark coloured whiskey bottle were two Scotty dogs, one black and one white. According to Cunliffe, the Black Scotty represented the whiskey, the white the soda. The name Whiskey & Soda stems from the fact that it is dressed with only black and white hackle feathers.

To make the fly ride high on its hackle tips, the Capilano fly fishermen treated it with mucilin or cerolene. It's important to remember the Whiskey & Soda was invented for dry fly fishing and that dry-fly fishing - of any kind, never mind the steelhead fishing variety - is a recent innovation. Capilano-anglers-of-the-day, Austin Spencer, Frank Darling, Paul Moody Smith and other dedicated fly fishers found it suited the low, clear, summer water conditions found on the Capilano. One story about the effectiveness about the Whiskey & Soda and Frank Darling, one of the Capilano fly fishing maters, was told me by King White in a letter to me, not too long before White died.

King remembers meeting Frank Darling on the Upper Capilino in 1932. Darling was sitting on a log 'resting' the Crown Creek Pool. He had just lost a fish, but had seen another surface in the lower part of the pool, and was getting ready to give it a try. White says this about the fly used and fish caught by Darling that long-ago day:

"I invited him to fish the pool while I rested after my long walk. He did and was soon working the pool casting a big gray Whiskey and Soda dry fly. Soon I got up and walked towards the river's edge just above Mr. Darling to watch more closely. I could see his fly sitting up high on the surface riding the waves down to the lower end of the reach. Just then a large fish shouldered through a wave just below the fly, and as it disappeared Mr. Darling's rod lifted to form an arc. The fish fought hard and remained in the pool for about ten minutes. By now I was sure he would land it on the beach, but suddenly the fish tore away and on out of the pool downstream. There was a long steep rapid below, and the river finally rushed against a long cribbing on our side. If the fish stayed on and reach the cribbing it would be gone. I still had my wading staff-gaff over my shoulder, and down along the edge of the rapid I raced over large uneven boulders in my hip waders. Finally I stopped and on looking back up the river I soon saw sunlight flashing on part of the flyline at least seventy-five yards below the figure of Mr. Darling. By now he had waded out to the edge of the pool all the while holding his nine foot Payne rod as high as he could. Suddenly I saw the flash of the fish's body behind a big low rock close to my shore and a little above me. In a few moments I made a lucky stroke and gaffed the seventeen pound summer henfish just behind the gill cover. The fly was still in the corner of her jaw, leader and line intact too, all the way to Mr. Darling who was standing on the shore way above me. Late that afternoon I was chauffeured from the river to my front gate in Mr. Darling's big black sedan."

The Whiskey & Soda was a Capilano fly and with the death of that river the fly has slipped from use. However, British Columbia's steelhead fly fishers herald its use as a steelheading first for North America."

Whiskey & Soda


    Hook  Number 4 to 8.

    Tail:  A black and a white hackle tip.

    Body:  Black and white hackles tied in at the hook bend and wound thick and full up the hook shank.

    Head:  Black thread, varnished.

    Originator:  Austin Spencer.

    Intended Use:  Dry fly for summer steelhead.

    Location:  Capilano River, B.C.

Credits: From Fly Patterns of British Columbia by Arthur James Lingren, published by Frank Amato Publications, Portland Oregon. Ours sincere thanks to for use permission. ~ LadyFisher

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