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 Orange Partridge and The Partridge and Orange

By Eric Austin, Ohio

There is a very fine history of the Orange Partridge that has been previously done in Just Old Flies by John W.P. Mooney, and it can be found here. I felt that while his article was an excellent look at the venerable Orange Partridge, of European origin, that there was more to be said about this fly and the Partridge and Orange. The first question that leaps to mind is, are they the same fly? Well, I think in Europe the terms might be used interchangeably, but here in the states they are, in my mind at least, two quite different flies.

Let's first talk about the Orange Partridge. T.E. Pritt's Yorkshire Trout Flies and North Country Flies, published in 1865 and 1866 respectively, defined the North Country wingless style of wet fly. This is not to say that Pritt invented these flies, rather he illustrated and catalogued them. The fly shown above is the Orange Partridge listed among his 62 patterns. The fly typifies the North Country style, in that it has very sparse wings/legs, hackled here with Partridge, and a spare body, made in this case of Pearsall's Gossamer silk alone. Pritt specifies no rib, but the fly is very often ribbed with gold wire. This is a very simple, very Spartan fly, and can represent many things in the water, from nymphs to pupae to emergers. The silk is typically not taken back much beyond the hook point, in other words, the fly has a short body. The hackle is not swept back much, and on some flies is more or less straight up and down.

The second fly, shown above, is another Orange Partridge, tied by Ireland's consummate professional tier Alice Conba. It features Alice's trademark tail made of three strands of bronze mallard flank, as well as a more swept back, fuller hackle collar. This fly becomes much more a standard wet fly in her version, and less a North Country Spider. This might not be a bad thing in many circumstances, and her customers have not complained about these changes.

The third fly I think of as more American, though I'm sure there are European versions tied this way. This fly, like Alice's, has a very full hackle collar, very swept back, with a more noticeable head. Another difference is that rather than using orange tying silk for the body, typically the body is made from orange floss. The biggest difference though, and what to me makes this fly a "Partridge and Orange" vs. an Orange Partridge, is the thorax made of the darker fur from a hare's mask. When I think of this version of the fly I think of Dave Hughes, and the Partridge and Orange other soft hackles shown in his books. It must be noted that there are "hybrids," i.e., flies that don't fit into any of my neat categories. For instance, I found a fly on-line that has a Pearsall's Gossamer body, and a hare's mask thorax. There are no absolutes here. Surprisingly, actually stunningly to me, the Partridge and Orange or Orange Partridge receive absolutely no mention at all in either Trout by Ray Bergman or Mary Orvis Marbury's Favorite Flies. The Partridge, Orange as it's listed in Flies by J. Edson Leonard, seems to be a different fly still, with an orange dubbed body and golden pheasant tippet tail. The Partridge and Orange appears to be a fly whose popularity has resurfaced post 1950, probably due to the efforts of Hidy, Leisenring, and more recently Sylvester Nemes.

Though many believe that the proper way to tie the fly is the North Country sparse, spare, spider way, I'm going to make a bit of an argument here for tying it in the more American style, at least under certain circumstances. I was recently having a conversation with the owner of Mad River Outfitters, our Columbus, OH, Orvis store, concerning soft hackles in general. Brian Flechsig informed me that he ties all his soft hackles with very full collars, swept back. Just before fishing them, he treats them with Frog's Fanny and then fishes them deep in the water column, like a nymph, with a lift at the end. Aided by the Frogs Fanny, the fly traps air bubbles, and gives a very lifelike imitation of hatching nymphs, caddis pupa, and various emergers. He swears by this technique, and has even gone so far as to educate some Western guides, who have picked it up and made good use of it in Montana, Utah, and other Western states. This puts me in mind of Gary Lafontaine's observations of caddis pupae, and his Deep Sparkle Pupa fly. The modern day "flymph" is designed to capture and retain air bubbles as well.

I'm going to relate one more way to fish the Partridge and Orange, one that I used under quite desperate circumstances on our Mad River one day. I had just tied some American-style Partridge and Orange flies in about size 12 the day before, and was out on the river. There was a fish rising sporadically, in quite a splashy way, about every 5 or ten minutes. I thought he might be going after caddis, so I floated a number of dry flies over him, to no avail, and then tried my Partridge and Orange flies fished wet, with no success there either. I couldn't understand this, because I found some dead insects in the water that were large, and looked like my Partridge and Orange flies. I'm still not sure what they were, maybe Craneflies. Then I saw an insect struggle in the water, and bang, the trout took it. He was only reacting to movement, so as a last resort I greased one of my Partridge and Orange flies, and fished it dry. When it got near the fish, I skated it, as you would an Elk Hair Caddis. The fish took the fly immediately, and after an incredibly short battle was mine. This fish, who had driven me crazy for probably 45 minutes, was all of 12 inches long. I remember him much more clearly though than some of the big ones. Here are recipes for all the flies mentioned:

The Orange Partridge (from T.E. Pritt, 1886)

    Wings: Hackled with a well-dappled feather from a Partridge's back.

    Body: Orange silk (This refers to orange tying silk, rather than silk floss. Silk floss has more sheen, and tying silk is stronger).

Conba's Orange Partridge (as tied by Alice Conba)

    Tail: Bronze mallard flank.

    Body: Orange floss.

    Ribbing: Gold wire.

    Hackle: Brown partridge.

The Partridge, Orange from J. Edson Leonard's Flies

    Tail: Golden pheasant tippet.

    Body: Orange Dubbing, gold rib.

    Wings/Hackle: Partridge.

Partridge 'N Orange from Terry Hellekson's Fish Flies

    Hooks: MUSR70, TMC3769, or DIA1550, sizes 10-14.

    Thread: Orange (note: Very often tied with black thread, Orvis makes them that way) E.A.

    Abdomen: Orange floss.

    Thorax: Dubbed with hare's mask fur.

    Hackle: Mottled gray Hungarian partridge tied on as a collar.

Credits: English Trout Flies by W.H. Lawrie; Trout by Ray Bergman; Flies By J. Edson Leonard; Fish Flies by Terry Hellekson; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Trout Flies by Dave Hughes. Conba's Orange Partridge tied by Alice Conba.

About Eric:

I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River. I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y. My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically. Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always considered him to be one of my biggest influences.

I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's studio. It was a blast.

So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now, here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA

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