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?
Homegrown Hackle and the Farmyard Darter
This time each year, starting in late August or early September, I can always depend on my neighbor Gene stopping in and sharing with us a bounty of vegetables from his garden. So last week, when I saw his old truck coming up the lane I had a good idea of the nature of his visit. As we started to unload the boxes and bags of goodies, Gene started telling me almost like an apology, "Not much to give you this year, garden didn't do to well, too cold and too much rain. But, I do have something else for you". He then took something from the floorboard of the truck and handed me several rooster neck capes. "We butchered last week and thought you might be able to use these". I thanked him and said that I would certainly put them to good use. This was not the first time Gene contributed to my hackle stash. Knowing that I tie flies, Gene keeps me well supplied with the hides of roosters, turkey, grouse, squirrel, buck tails and just about anything else that roams these hills. Gene is not the only source I have for my homegrown hackle. Since I started tying flies I have always had my eyes open for an opportunity to pick up some free hackle. Living in the country makes it a little easier and over the years, I have developed a network of friends and neighbors that have something I can use in my tying like chickens, ducks, pheasants, guineas or peacocks that sooner or later will all meet their end, making their feathers available. Since most of these friends are either hunters or fishermen themselves that are happy to see their harvest put to a good use.
This enthusiasm to share can have a slight down side also, like the afternoon I received four complete turkey skins with tails which required the time consuming process of plucking, cleaning and matching the pairs of tail and wing feathers, or another time, after a long hot Fourth of July weekend I returned home to find a dead guinea in a plastic bag on my door knob that had been hanging there in 90 degree heat for three days.
I really try to put all this material to good use by using it myself or by passing it on to other tiers but unfortunately there is usually a lot of unusable damaged material. Keep in mind that this material is straight from nature and has not been cleaned and groomed or packaged in plastic bags to look nice hanging on a fly shop pegboard. Also, it has not been altered by generations of cross breeding to produce the characteristics we demand in the hackle we use today. After having a chance to use this natural material and seeing the difficulties, it makes you wonder how the earlier tiers were able to produce such wonderful flies. When I used this material the first time I found I was really restricted in regards to sizes and types of flies I could tie. This type of generic hackle is usually very sparse with the stems thick and stiff making it very hard to wind and tie a decent dry fly. I have been able to use it on some of the trout flies I fish with but really doesn't make the kind of fly you would want to show your buddies. The fish don't seem to mind the imperfections and it does seem to do a serviceable job on streamers and big bass flies.
I usually try to show my appreciation to my donor friends by tying some flies from their contribution that has some sort of connection between them and the fly. They seem to enjoy the sentiment, even the people that don't fish. So, I wanted to do the same here and as I started to seek a fly with a connection to this article, I opened a copy of Forgotten Flies and I found it there on the first page I opened to. I could not believe it. There it was on page 430, Farmyard Darter. I tried to stay true to the original streamer as created by Derl Stoval but in place of the black and cream variant hackle called for in the wings, I just had to use some of the Badger hackle Gene gave me.
Body: Embossed silver tinsel
Throat: Black and white hackle
Wing: Four black and white variant hackle
Cheek: Jungle cock
Head: White with black band
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