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 Black Dog

By Eric Austin, Ohio

I think The Black Dog has one of the most elegant bodies of all the salmon flies. It's another full dress fly that is not all that difficult, and a good one to start out with if you've never made the plunge into the full dress pool. This one only took me one evening and one morning to complete, and that included lots of breaks and down time between stages.

Kelson gives his father credit for this fly, though the details of its origin are murky at best. He considered it a good high water fly, which makes sense if you think about it, particularly well suited to the Spey and Wye rivers. Francis Francis liked the fly too, for the Tay in particular. Once again, there are lots of versions of this one. I tied one of these a couple of years ago and was kicking myself because I used wide gold tinsel for the main rib instead of yellow floss, but I've discovered now that there were lots of versions of the fly done that way.

Ron Alcott has the summer duck (wood duck to you and me) in this fly as "wing veiling," but the recipe from Kelson shows it as part of the wing. I don't particularly like the look of the summer duck used as a veiling, so I used my artistic license and made it a roof here. I hope my license doesn't get revoked. I'm not alone in dealing with this summer duck in a different manner; Francis Francis used it as part of the under-wing. In any case, for me, the wood duck is the problem, and I came up with my own solution. Yours may be different. By the way, Ron Alcott's book Building Classic Salmon Flies is a must have. He straightened me out on a couple of things. It's one of the best "how to" books for these flies.

The two things that seem to be somewhat constant among versions are the black body, the long-flowing heron herl, and the gorgeous ribbing arrangement, though there are small variations among versions there.

Once again I need to thank some fellow tiers who have sent me materials over the years. Jack Montague in particular has sent some very nice feathers from Florida, Alice Conba some beautiful golden pheasant crest, and Reed Curry sent me enough gut to last me the rest of my life. Thanks everyone.

Here's Kelson's recipe, somewhat of a standard if ever there is such a thing with Atlantic salmon flies:

The Black Dog

    Hook: I used the Partridge Bartleet Traditional Blind-Eye hook here, 3/0. I cut it a little shorter to conform to a traditional hook length. Partridge gives you lots of length to play with, if you like. These hooks are inexpensive and have a very nice shape.

    Tag: Silver twist and canary silk.

    Tail: A topping and ibis.

    Butt: Black herl.

    Body: Black Silk.

    Ribs: Yellow silk and silver tinsel (oval) running on each side of it.

    Wings: Two red-orange hackles (back to back) enveloped by two jungle fowl; unbarred summer duck, light bustard, Amhurst pheasant (sic), swan dyed scarlet and yellow and two toppings.

    Note: Though you can't see the under-wing very well in this shot, I've used yellow-orange feathers from an Amherst pheasant clump that I purchased recently. These feathers make a wonderful under-wing for this fly.

Credits: Building Classic Salmon Flies by Ron Alcott; Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin. ~ EA

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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