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 Chateaugay

By Eric Austin, Ohio

This is another wet fly featured in the Ray Bergman book Trout, and it's a bit unusual in one respect. It features both shades of mallard, brown in the tail and gray in the wing. Other than that, it's quite typical of the flies that were fished in the heyday of the wet fly in upstate New York.

I'm a bit short on history with this fly, so I thought I might provide a little of my own. A small group of friends and I spent a couple of days fishing and camping on the Chateaugay river in the early 60s. I'm guessing we were fifteen or sixteen at the time. We pitched our tents late in the day when we arrived there, at a beautiful open area that led right down to the river. After a night of fun that included a big bonfire and some incredibly bad food cooked over a truly open fire, we turned in, a tired and happy bunch.

The next morning we were awakened by the sounds of cows mooing, and quickly discovered they were headed our way. We had pitched our tents right in the path the cows took every morning on their way down to the river to drink. I won't call it a stampede, though it seemed so to us at the time. The herd laid waste to our camp, trampling tents, sleeping bags, everything in their path. There was no stopping them.

Though we had suffered a minor setback, we immediately set upon our task of catching as many fish as the river had to offer. I don't know if the place had been stocked the day before we got there or what, but we caught fish hand over fist. In two days we caught and kept over 120 fish. They were browns, rainbows, and brook trout, and I think we all scored a "Trifecta." I think this carnage had a lot to do with my conversion to a catch and release policy (my own, nobody else was doing it), by the time I was out of high school. But this was a different time, and we were young and didn't know any better. And it was legal.

The first day's fishing, which had been wonderful, culminated in perhaps the only true blizzard hatch I've ever witnessed. I'm talking about white-out conditions, with every fish in the river up. I couldn't begin to tell you what was hatching, in those days we didn't know one bug from another, but there were millions of them. My friend Bill, the only worm fisherman among us, couldn't buy a hit at this point. Bill was a fantastic fisherman, normally out-fished me ten to one, and here he was, getting nothing while we caught fish after fish. It was almost dark when Bill came up with an idea. He removed the worm and sinker, and took the aluminum foil from a gum wrapper, attached it to the hook, and somehow got it out there with his spinning rod. On the first cast he caught a fish! I saw it with my own eyes.

The river was to exact a terrible price for our prideful decimation of its fish population. Two of our group drank the water, contracted hepatitis, and spent the rest of the summer in bed. Nature always finds a way. Here's the recipe for the Chateaugay:

The Chateaugay:

    Tail: Brown mallard.

    Body: Pale yellow floss.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Wing: Gray Mallard.

Credits: Trout, by Ray Bergman.

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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