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 Frank Gray

By Eric Austin, Ohio


Here's another big bass fly from the Mary Orvis Marbury book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. Yes, this is a big one. I've tied it on a 3/0 salmon fly iron, and as crazy as that might sound, I've seen some antique flies that were used for bass back then, and they were just huge, with big thick bodies and large wings. If anything, the body on the one I've done is probably not thick enough. When you think about it, these flies rather imitate minnows, and are closer to streamers than they are wet flies, so it makes some sense. This one is quite streamer-like, in any case.

As opposed to the Henshall flies which were created for large mouth bass down south, this big guy was created by Frank Gray of Janesville, Wisconsin for wall-eyes up north. Here's what C.L. Valentine has to say in a letter to Mary Orvis Marbury in the late 1800s:

"Inclosed(sic) I send a fly made by Mr. Frank Gray, of this city, the oldest fly-fisherman of this locality, and the one most successful.

Mr. Gray makes what flies he uses. That inclosed is the best I have ever seen for wall-eyed pike. Mr. Gray attaches to the hook, at times, a small strip of either white or red cloth, about half an inch long, and prefers the fly on a heavy single snell. For forty years past he has taken fish here, black bass and pike, with this fly, never using any other bait in fishing; it is good for early-morning fishing, but best from five to eight o'clock in the evening, from August to November.

The fly should be called after its maker, Frank Gray."

There are so many times, I think, when we make it all too hard for ourselves. The old guys know how easy it is. You go out when the fish are biting first of all, the rest of the time it's just a question of beating water anyway. Once they're biting, you throw a strip of cloth on your fly to give it some real action. Then you let the natural territorial nature of these fish kick in and BINGO! I wonder if the Bass Professor knows about this one. Here's the recipe for the Frank Gray:

The Frank Gray:

    Wing: Green teal.

    Hackle: Claret.

    Body: Orange Floss, blue thread rib.

    Tip: Blue floss.

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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