Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of 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.

Most books, and yes, even we here, bring 'new and improved' designs; however, in days long gone, fish readily accepted these creations; 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. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish them. Perhaps . . .


Part Three

Sweeper Flies

By 'old rupe'

Sweeper Flies


There are four ways to fish the AuSable - classic; wet fly-upstream, nymph, dry fly-long leader downstream, dry fly upstream, and sweeper fishing.

Sweeper fishing is a throwback to a grander, earlier time. A time when sports were escorted down the river in elaborate river boats. Flat bottomed boat stable enough to stand up in, with a picnic lunch, wine and or a bottle of good scotch, a live well and pegs to hold 4-5 rods.

AuSable River Boat

These boats, up to 27 ft long, dragged a chain and were poled by a guide with a wide brim hat who fished a automatic fly reel. The guide would pole with one hand then plant the pole and cast with the other hand. He would control the boats speed by lengthening the amount of anchor chain let out behind the boat. Depending on the amount of structure and holding, a good guide would move through each section a the proper speed.

What are sweepers? The AuSable uniquely blessed with dead downed trees that are there year after year. There is no spring run-off here and bank side cover abounds.

The trick was to throw a fly back into "holes" in the downed trees where all the nice trout live. Nothing in life is harder than to watch a monster regularly feed 12 feet back in a sweeper with no holes to cast through. It was a specialized act.

These flies were sweeper flies - from time immorial on the AuSable this was the way it was done. You didn't have to know about those funny flies on the water. You just had to know how to throw flies back into the sweepers. Generally there were muddlers or skunks, like these are.

More Sweeper Flies

I guess I was known as a fly man and one guide who fished the water 3 days a week said, "What are those yellow flies?" Looking at his act it was understandable, he was a sweeper guide. All his clients, mostly older clients, relished a fine day floating the river with a few drinks, a great boat lunch, and the chance to haul real hogs out of the sweepers.

The sweeper outfit was a 6-7 wt with a weight forward line and a 7-9 foot leader. The trick was to throw a tight loop that didn't open up until the line and leader was back into the sweeper. The fly was brought out in 6-12 inch rips. Short strikers were common - hence the trailer on old Wallace's streamer. Most of the fish orientated to the edges, explaining the popularity of skunks and rubber legged flies of that type.

Wallace's Streamer

I fished big muddlers. What a thrill watching a big fish smack at your fly 4-5 times following it out of the sweeper. You couldn't stop. If you did the fish would "give up". When a fish was hooked no "finesse" was used. Just drag the hog out.

Sounds like bass fishing doesn't it? But it was sure a thrill. You could do it wading but the class act was to do it by boat, covering 4-5 miles of water, taking the easy shots.

I fished it differently. I walked my boat, positioning it exactly where I wanted it. The sport didn't have to think. The correct position was chosen for him.

I was scum, since most of my clients couldn't really fish sweeper I used a set of pruning shears to improve the hole. Not the hole that everyone else used. I liked holes that faced up stream. Holes that you would have to partially pass to throw into. If your client hung one in a "hole" you had two to three rods available to give him three or four shots. Then you would wade over and remove the flies.

This was not a 5x act. These were the gov's sweeper flies. He was a contemporary of the inventor of the Adams and Skunk, and since he always "tied to pattern" I would suspect these skunks were real close to the original patterns. George always said over one-half his streamer flies came on the trailer.

What could be better ; a leisurely float, a great boat lunch, a few drinks, and big trout smacking at your fly on top - your heart in your mouth as you watched that pig follow your fly for seven or eight feet and hit at it four to six times. Some guides used nothing but muddlers and skunks. And at around dark would sometimes fish 'mousies' which were deer hair mice. Few fished after 4:00p.m. as gentlemen had to clean up before dinner at Cal Gates lodge.

A way of life that is slipping past. The good guides are gone. Most just take a boat ride. Few now can throw that fly 8-10 ft back into a sweeper. A class act that will never return. When I see the flies I think of the AuSable and an act that was dying when I was young.

The old gov did it to a tee - but he should as he had been doing it for 50 years. I just was fortunate enough to observe his act. The last time I saw him, his niece was working a boat for him below Stephans Bridge - he couldn't wade. I waved and said "Hi".

I will always think of the old gov when I fish that stretch. The gov didn't invent the sweeper act, but he sure did refine it. If old gov waded it was sure hard to fish behind him. ~ old rupe

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