We at FAOL hope you are enjoying this series. The format is loose; rather,
that should be, very loose. Due to the nature of the subject we are attempting
to cover there will be many looks to each issue. This is due in part to the
information available to us at the time of publication. There may be much
more written, and known, but as each issue goes on line, we will attempt
to bring what we have.
This time we feature a fly from years past, that is still in use today. By that
I mean, it was conceived, developed, used, and utilized as a logo by a
well know fly-fishing organization. It remains as the symbol of the club to
this day. The fly is in much use as it still produces as well as it did at it's
inception. That fly is the 'Alaska Mary Ann.' I will now quote from the
Alaska Flyfishers (AFF) book, 'Fly Patterns of Alaska,'
published by Frank Amato Publications.
"This is the official fly of the Alaska Flyfishers. It was developed by
Frank Dufresne, and several versions of the story about it's origin exist.
Even Dufresne himself has been reported to have told different stories
on different occasions. For many years Eskimo women in the Kotzebue
area have used a small jig, called the 'Kobuk Hook,' to jig for char and
sheefish through the ice. It is made from a sliver of ivory, a bent and
sharpened nail, and some polar bear hair. Dufresne tried them on a fly
rod and found them very effective. When he ran out of the originals, he
tied a duplicate using regular fly tying materials.
According to one story, the fly was named for the Eskimo lady who gave
Dufresne the 'Kobuk Hooks' and whose name was Mary Ann. This
version was shown to club member Harry Geron in 1953 at Sparrevohn
Air force Station by a man who claimed to have been a friend of Dufresne,
who showed him how to tie it and told him it's history. For many years this
has been a good pattern for virtually all predatory fish in Alaskan rivers
From that we now go to a reference by H.H. Smedley. The source is
'Fly Patterns and Their Origins,' published in
1950 by Westshore Publications, Muskegon, Michigan. Again, I will take
the text directly from the pages of the book.
"This pattern was conceived and perfected by Frank Dufresne, whose name
and fame are known throughout Alaska. From southeastern Alaska to the
Arctic he has fished, guided, explored and carried on his work as a naturalist
for twenty odd years. During much of that time he worked in the official
capacity as Fish and Game Commissioner and later with the United States
Fish and Wildlife service. He is the author of 'Alaska Animals
On the Kobuk River, north of Nome, in the summer of 1922 he saw the natives
there fishing with an artificial bait. It was made of ivory and shaped not unlike a
small modern lure. The copper hook, not barbed, had attached to it a small
triangular piece of red skin from the corner of a guillenot's bill, a black eye
made from whale bone was inserted at the forward end of the piece of ivory
and a sparse topping of white polar bear hair was attached.
In 1929 Dufresne, for fly fishing, reproduced the lure in hair and feathers. A
silver tinsel body, red tag, jungle cock eye and polar bear wing on a long shank
hook and the Alaska Mary Ann came into being.
The name Mary Ann in Alaska is used to describe or refer to a girl whose
name might not be known. It is an expression, used much the same as
'baby doll' was used, some years ago."
Now, from the pages of the AFF book, the recipe for the Alaska Mary Ann.
Hook: 4 to 6 (long shank)
Tail: Red hackle fibers
Body: Ivory or light tan floss
Rib: Medium flat silver tinsel
Wing: White polar bear hair
Cheek: Jungle cock
Tying tip: Bucktail or goat hair may be substituted for polar bear wing.
And now yet more information on the fly. From 'Streamers and Bucktails
the Big Fish Flies,' by Joe Bates 1979, page 274 we hear that the hook used was
actually a 'coopers nail.' The fly got it's name from a fishing trip where Dufresne
gave a few to a friend of his and he reported catching rainbows, cutthroats, Dolly
Vardens and salmon. "Man, this catches 'em all; the whole Mary Ann of 'em.'
And so the name was born. A 'cooper' was a barrel or keg maker.
Bob Fairchild, tying instructor for the nearly six hundred member AFF, still carries
the Alaska Mary Ann fly in his fly-fishing hat; just in case.
You now know as much as I do about this fly. It looks good to me, think
I may tie up a few; just in case too.~ JC