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 Massassaga


By Eric Austin


This is one of the many interesting bass flies shown in the Mary Orvis Marbury book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. Mary sent letters to all the well known fly fishermen in this country and Canada in the late 1800s, asking them to send her documentation of the flies they liked in their area, the hooks and leaders they used, and any fly fishing techniques they liked to employ. The letters she received back are shown in the book, along with illustrations of many of the flies, and Mary's own commentary and literary touches, which are not insignificant. In fact, much of the beauty and soul of this book comes from Mary herself, who was evidently a highly educated person with a great love of poetry, the English language, and classical literature. I never tire of this book, and it is a great snapshot of the state of fly fishing in this country at the end of the 19th century.

"Black bass" was the term used to describe the fish we know as the smallmouth bass today. Mary received a letter from Walter Greaves of Ottawa, Canada as part of her research, and in it he lists the flies he likes for trout, black bass, and two flies of his own design. The Massassaga is one of these last two flies, along with The Lake Edward. Here's what he said about The Massassaga:

"Designed by myself in 1885, merely as an experiment. Body green, with gold tinsel; wings guinea-fowl dyed yellow; hackle yellow; tail scarlet ibis. In fishing for bass on the Bay of Quinte`, county of Hastings, I have found this fly to take better than any fly I have used, and several of my friends say the same thing. It takes particularly well during the evening, say between six o'clock and sundown, in the months of July and August."

As was the case with many of the flies sent to Mary, which were personal inventions for a given local lake, the Massassaga did not survive as a popular fly. But its beauty endures in the pages of her book, and that's enough. One frustrating thing I've found with Favorite Flies and Their Histories is that many of the flies have no recipes. Fortunately, J. Edson Leonard comes to the rescue in 1950 with his book Flies, and lists recipes for all of them. If you have both books, you're set. Surprisingly, Leonard lists this fly in the trout/wet fly section of his book, but I think Mary had it right.

Credits: Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Flies by J. Edson Leonard. ~ Eric Austin

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