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 Twenty-six

Fly Tying at the End of the Millennium
(Part 2)

By Chauncy Lively


The importing of British flies for use on our streams made a problem we were not prepared to face: the entomology of streams in the British Isles is vastly different from that of ours but we treated the matter as if they were similar. Many of the English patterns didn't work on our streams simply because our trout did not recognize them as familiar food. And to worsen the situation we began to assign the names of British patterns to our own aquatic insects which we felt bore resemblance. Thus, in this cart-before-the-horse procedure, our March Brown (the natural) was so named because someone thought it looked somewhat like the English March Brown pattern. Never mind that our March Brown is Stenonema vicarium while the Brits' is Rhithrogena haarupi. Close but no cigar. Slowly, we began to abandon the English patterns in favor of new flies representing our own aquatic insects.

In England Dr. Francis Ward began researching the trout's perspective of insects floating on the surface, taking into account the physical laws governing the refraction of light - the bending of light rays entering the water. In 1931 Colonel E.W. Harding expanded Dr. Ward's studies in a landmark book titled The Flyfisher and the Trout's Point of View. Heretofore, most anglers assumed that if they could plainly see a mayfly floating on the surface of clear water, a trout lying beneath the surface could see the insect with equal clarity. Col. Harding proved this assumption to be fundamentally in error, but with a few strings attached.

Harding indicated that a trout had an uninhibited view of objects beneath the surface, provided the water remained clear. But looking upward, its view of anything in the element of air, i.e., on or about the surface, was dependent upon the extent to which the refraction of light would permit. Its vision to the outside world was said to be defined by the shape of a cone with its apex at the trout's eyes and a circular window at the surface on the other end. Since the angle of the cone is a fixed 97 degrees the area of the window enlarges or shrinks according to the trout's distance from the surface.

Outside the area of the trout's window it sees the underside of the surface film as a silvery mirror, reflecting the bottom of the stream in shallow water. Only when a floating insect drifts into the trout's window can it be clearly seen by the trout. Outside the window the imprint of the insect bearing upon the elastic film is plainly seen on the underside of the mirror. Ward and Harding called this imprint the "light-pattern" and it is generally regarded as the initial stimulus of the rise.

It was learned that the light-pattern may vary broadly among the various floating insects and a few - such as grasshoppers, beetles and inchworms - have light-patterns distinctly their own. those of mayfly duns differ markedly from those of spent spinners and the sprawling legs of caddisflies produce a different imprint than the on-the-toes image made by mayfly duns.

The findings of Ward and Harding brought about significant setback to the "exact imitation" school, from which it never recovered. If a trout in moving water gets an undistorted view of a floating insect only in the brief instant it passes through the center of the window, when why bother with unnecessary detail? That was the attitude of most successful fly tyers and it generally holds to this day. ~ Chauncy Lively

More next time. Chauncy's article appears in the Spring Issue of the RIVERWATCH, the quarterly publication of the Anglers of the AuSable, Grayling Michigan. FAOL is proud to be a member of this fine organization, dedicated to the protection of the AuSable River, its watershed and environs. Dues are $25 per year. For membership contact:
The Anglers of the AuSable
403 Black Bear Drive
Grayling, Michigan 49738
and visit their website!

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