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?
Just when you think you know something. By now I should have heard of every last Catskill fly there ever was. I've certainly read enough books. So imagine my stunned amazement when I came across this fly in Ed Van Put's book Trout Fishing in the Catskills. Here was a fly from Catskill icon Theodore Gordon, someone I certainly knew a lot about, named for a man, George La Branche, a man I thought I knew something about as well, and yet I'd never heard of this fly. I was, in a word, stupified.
Yes, this fly was created by the legendary Theodore Gordon, founding father of the Catskill "school". Of course we all know of the Quill Gordon, or Gordon Quill as it was known then. The Bumblepuppy too, is well known to many of us, a forerunner to today's streamers. But the La Branche? I have been pouring through old literature now for some time, and simply have never run across this fly. Now Gordon was a prolific writer, and I confess to not having read everything, yet. Much of his material is unavailable to all but collectors these days. But still, the fact that this fly has, until now, eluded me I find to be utterly amazing.
Naturally, the minute I realized this fly existed I checked some other places to find out if others knew. They did. The fly is found in J.Edson Leonard's Flies, and on-line at classictrout.com. It would seem that I'm always the last to know.
I tried to do this fly in a style similar to Gordon's, only to discover some photos in Van Put's book showing some of Gordon's flies tied on up-eyed hooks. The good news was that I also found a photo of a Quill Gordon tied by Gordon himself on a down-eyed hook, so I'm in the clear. That photo can be found in Mike Valla's new book Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies. I put on the fly what I thought was unconscionably long hackle, but I'm not sure after seeing Gordon's Gordon that the wings and hackle are long enough even now. The early flies were huge relative to today's. It had everything to do with the hackle available then.
One very interesting thing I've notice about this fly is that is identical to a fly I fished back when that we called the "Whirling Blue Dun". As a matter of fact, in an earlier article I did on that fly, the example I tied then is nearly the same as this one, save for the hackle length and lack of a "tip" on this one. Now George La Branche's favorite fly was one called the Whirling Dun, which is similar but has ginger or brown hackle depending on which book you read. It's also interesting to note that J. Edson Leonard's La Branche has a tip, though none is mentioned in Ed Van Put's book. It's my guess that the La Branche morphed into the Whirling Blue Dun at some point, maybe having something to do with George La Branche's preference for the Whirling Dun. But who knows? To cloud the issue even more, J. Edson Leonard has the Whirling Blue Dun with brown hackle, though Terry Hellekson in "Fish Flies" has it as I do in my article, with dun hackle and tail. Confused? Me too.
So I guess I don't know as much as I thought. That comes as no surprise to my wife, but as quite a shock to me. Maybe with a little work I can find some more things I know nothing about. This could happen. Here's the recipe for the La Branche:
Tail: Gray hackle fibers
Body: Blue-gray dubbing ribbed with gold tinsel
Hackle: Blue Dun
Wings: Gray mallard wing quill
Credits: The Dry Fly and Fast Water by George LaBranche; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies by Mike Valla; Trout Fishing in the Catskills by Ed Van Put ~ ELA
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