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 Fan Wings

By Eric Austin

Oh the fan wings! What memories they hold! Memories of twisted leaders, fishless days, and going nuts trying to tie those wings on straight! Still, when I saw some recently on-line in an old 1925 Ogden Smiths catalog, I just had to tie a few. This article was originally going to be just one fly, the Sunset, from the Mary Orvis Marbury book. Once I tied that one though, it was so pretty I just wanted to tie more. So I present seven here, and even have some tying tips from Ray Bergman and yours truly if you decide you'd like to try your hand.

I never had a lot of success fishing these as a kid, but there was a day on our Mad River here in Ohio where I would have killed to have one. It was one of those late summer days when nothing much was doing on the river, and I was bored and just sat down to observe for awhile. I hadn't seen a rise all day. I noticed that there were a considerable number of white winged moths or butterflies around, and beyond that not many insects at all. I was overlooking the river from a high bank, and I saw one of the butterflies land on the water. I followed his journey down river for quite some time and then BANG! He disappeared in a swirl, big white wings and all. So there were fish in the river after all! I never saw that fish rise again, but I think in retrospect that if I had just had one of those McSneeks, or even a Fan Wing Royal Coachman, I might have gotten him. So this fly has a place, especially at night when the moths abound.

The Sunset is a fly that was designed specifically to be fished at sunset. It comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota by way of Mr. W.P. Andrus, who says:

"This fly has 'done me proud' on several occasions when I have been fishing in Wisconsin, about sunset; hence the name. I sometimes use a yellow hackle in place of a white, as in this instance; also tip the body with peacock herl instead of green chenille."

I've done the same with mine.

Another fly that really caught my eye is from Ray Bergman's Trout.

Maybe it was the name that attracted me more than the fly, The McSneek. It's an interesting variation on the Royal Coachman theme, and most of the other fan wings pictured in Trout were variations on this theme as well. Bergman says this about tying fan wings:

"If the wings are not straight when you put them on, nothing you do will straighten them. Either you didn't set them straight to begin with, or else the quills of the feathers are flat on the wrong side and so won't set straight, in which case you might better get another set of wings and start over again.

To me the worst task in putting on fan wings is the selection of the feathers for uniformity in shape and equal size in a pair. As a rule it is best to take two feathers that are together on the bird."

I found these things out the hard way when I tried to tie the Fan Wing Grizzly King. The Ogden Smiths version I wanted to do clearly had teal wings. On the other flies, I had entire birds to work with, and could get very nicely matched pairs, in a single "clump." I didn't have a teal however for the Grizzly King, just a big bag of feathers. It was all I could do to come up with two feathers that were even close. So if you want to tie these, get a wood duck for the white feathers and a mallard for the mottled ones, it makes a big difference.

One other tying tip that I discovered involves the tendency for the fronts of the wings to angle together, forming a "V." You can avoid this by holding the wings vertically with the left hand, and wrapping three soft wraps over the butts toward the eye, two back (the second one behind the butts), then grab both butts and take them toward the bend (rear), as if you're going to tie them onto the SIDES of the hook. The near butt will go to the near side, the far butt to the far. Now bind them with HARD wraps of thread, three or so. This will help prevent that "V" from forming. And as Ray says, if you don't get these straight right away, try another pair of wings.

I've included some other classic fan wings here, the Fan Wing Royal Coachman of course, the Fan Wing Cahill, an old Fan Wing Green May (female) that I think is used for Green Drakes, a Europa, and a Grizzly King. I remember all kinds of flies being tied in the fan wing style, but was hard pressed to find them in the literature that I have. It's very strange to me that a fly which seemed incredibly popular when I was growing up could just disappear from the scene completely, but it is a leader twister, and I'm not sure that anyone had a good idea of what it was supposed to imitate. Yes, there has been some things written about imitating the big drakes, as well as moths and butterflies. Many of the large drakes are gone though, and how well these flies actually imitate them is debatable. That said, these are a blast to tie, and I've had a lot of fun this week. Here are some recipes if you'd like to give fan wings a shot:

Recipe for the Sunset:

    Butt: Green chenille or peacock herl.

    Body: Yellow floss.

    Hackle: Yellow or White.

    Wings: White fan wings, wood duck works well, and so does mallard or Canadian goose.

The McSneek:

    Tail: Black hackle wisps.

    Body: Black dyed peacock herl, silver tinsel center (I used black ostrich because it was there.)

    Hackle: Black.

    Wing: White fan wings.

Fan Wing Royal Coachman

    Tail: Golden pheasant tippet.

    Body: Peacock herl, scarlet floss center.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Wings: White fan wings.


    Tail: Moose body hair.

    Body: Yellow floss.

    Hackle: Yellow, Palmer.

    Wings: Mallard dyed yellow.

Fan Wing Green May Fly Female

    Tail: Brown mallard.

    Body: Yellow floss, red rib, gold tip.

    Hackle: Brown, grouse front (partridge used here).

    Wings: Pale mallard dyed pale green.

Fan Wing Grizzly King

    Tail: Red hackle barbs.

    Body: Green floss.

    Rib: Gold tinsel (I used yellow floss, which is what appears to have been used in the catalog)

    Hackle: Grizzly.

    Wings: Teal.

Fan Wing Cahill

    Tail: Wood duck.

    Body: Muskrat.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Wings: Mallard.

Credits: Ogden Smiths Fly Catalog, at Overmywaders.com; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Trout by Ray Bergman; Flies by J. Edson Leonard. ~ Eric Austin

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