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?


The Red Quill, Old and New


By Eric Austin


Art Flick's Red Quill might just be my favorite fishing fly. It's shown above. I'll differentiate favorite fishing fly from non-fishing flies that would include the beautiful old full dress salmon and lake flies that I don't fish much, but are favorites anyway. Flick's fly just simply produces for me at Hendrickson time, year after year. I did have one notable refusal a couple of years ago, by a very big fish that came up for it, inspected it, and laughed in its face, but other than that, the fish just take it unquestionably. Flick says that it represents the male, but I'm finding it hard to believe that we have only male Hendricksons on the Mad, for me it seems to work for both. In any event, it out-fishes the traditional Hendrickson patterns hands down.

So what's this fly doing in the "Just Old Flies" section? Well, there is an "old" Red Quill too, (shown below) one that predates Flick's by more than a hundred years. The fly appears in Frederic M. Halford's book Floating Flies, and How to Dress Them in 1886. While Flick's is dun colored save for the body, Halford's version is reddish-brown, a very different fly altogether. On a side note, I think Halford's definition of dry fly fishing found in Hints on Dry-Fly Fishing is as cogent today as it was then:

"To define dry-fly fishing, I should describe it as presenting to the rising fish the best possible imitation of the insect on which he is feeding, in its natural position. To analyze this further, it is necessary, firstly, to find a fish feeding on the winged insect; secondly, to present to him a good imitation of this insect, both as to size and color; thirdly, to present it to him in its natural position, of floating on the surface of the water with its wings up, or what we technically term 'cocked;' fourthly, to put the fly lightly on the water, so that it floats accurately over him without drag; and fifthly, to take care that all these condition have been fulfilled before the fish has seen the angler or the refection of his rod."

The old pattern had body of stripped peacock herl dyed red, with brownish overtones. There is some reference to a hackle quill body as well in J. Edson Leonard's book Flies, in a second version of the old fly. He has a third version in there as well that is clearly Art Flick's, with wood duck wings and dun tail and hackle. Art Flick claims to have invented the hackle quill body fly, with his creation of the Red Quill in 1933. Though Edson shows an old Red Quill tied with a hackle quill body, I would imagine that came later, after Art Flick's fly was invented. I can only find reference to the stripped peacock quill in the early books, so I will agree with Art when he says:

"The name Red Quill is an old one, having been given to an English fly many years ago. I took the liberty of borrowing it a few years ago when I started tying a fly to represent the male E. subvaria. The fly is like Mr. Steenrod's [Hendrickson], except for the body.

The dressing of the Red Quill follows:

    Wings: Flank feather of mandarin or wood-duck drake.

    Body: Quill of large hackle feather from Rhode Island Red cock, stripped and well soaked.

    Hackle: Natural blue dun.

    Tail: Few wisps of dun spade or barb feather.

    Hook: No. 12.

Times have changed, and a #14 hook works best for me, but other than that, Art Flick's dressing serves us beautifully today. So what fly did the old Red Quill imitate? Certainly not the Hendrickson. J. Edson Leonard lists a hatch he calls the Red Quill hatch, appearing in late April, with a smoky brown body and cinnamon wings. He goes on to give the Irish name for this hatch, the Brown Caughlan. It's a small reddish fly, and one with which I am unfamiliar. Perhaps it's not native to the states, or perhaps it appears elsewhere, and I just haven't been there to see it. Here's the recipe for the old Red Quill, from J. Edson Leonard:

    Wings: Gray.

    Body: Red peacock quill (dyed).

    Hackle: Natural dark red.

    Tail: Natural dark red.

As you might have gathered, I'm a big fan of Art Flick's Red Quill. When it's Hendrickson time, and the fish are on the duns, it's unbeatable.

Credits: Favorite Flies and their Histories, By Mary Orvis Marbury; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Art Flick's New Streamside Guide by Art Flick, "Floating Flies, and How to Dress Them by Frederick M. Halford; Hints on Dry-Fly Fishing by Frederick M. Halford. ~ Eric Austin

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