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 Ondawa

By Eric Austin, Ohio


The name of this fly comes from the Mohican name for the Battenkill River, Vermont's legendary trout stream. If you buy Orvis equipment, you might have at some point bought one of their "Battenkill" reels. I know I've got two of them. The river has considerable significance to the Orvis company today, and the company is waging a campaign to save this troubled water. The river also meant a great deal to Mary Orvis Marbury in the late 1800s, as the fledgling company was getting its start. Here's what she has to say in Favorite Flies and their Histories:

"The Ondawa is a bass fly, to which has been given an old Indian name belonging to a little river in a valley of the Green Mountains. It is an ideal trout stream which can be waded or fished from a boat. It winds and doubles upon itself in never-ending curves. Numberless mountain streams swell its waters, and contribute the fingerlings to grow to vigorous trout in cool, fern-shaded pools. The river gradually widens and deepens until it joins the Hudson near Schuylersville, so famous in Revolutionary times.

Many anglers who read these lines will remember restful, dreamlike hours spent drifting down the Ondawa. "Hard's ripples," "the pent bridge," and other pools dear to memory, will once more glimmer and beckon. They will remember, too, the quiet smoke after luncheon, while resting under the shade of the meadow elms, where eyes could wander from mountain to mountain that circle and guard the quiet valley. Later came the ride home, the cool night air fanning our faces, and bringing to us the odor of the willows, balm-o'-Gilead, and roadside mint; then the welcoming lights, greetings, supper, and a rehearsal of the day's doings.

A little girl of thirteen, who was permitted to go on one of these fishing-trips, in her delight wrote the following verses to:

The Lovely Ondawa

Down on the river,
The sunshiny river,
Down midst the eddies
And deep limpid pools,
There's where my heart lies,
There's where the trout rise:
I think that's the place
To go fishing, don't you?

As we float down the river,
The sunshiny river,
By willows and alders
That droop as we pass,
The fish are a-flashing,
The streamlet is dashing;
I think that's the place
To go fishing, don't you?

We reach the red bridge,
Find the horses in waiting;
We all hurry in,
And are off with a rush
Up the long road,
With the fireflies flashing:
I think that's the place
To go fishing, don't you?"

Beautiful passages from Mary Orvis Marbury such as the previous one adorn "Favorite Flies" throughout, making it one of the great and timeless books in our fly fishing literature. Here's the recipe for the Ondawa:

The Onadawa:

    Wing: Ruddy pheasant-cock body feather.

    Hackle: Brown.

    Body: Orange chenille 1/2 fore, green 1/2 aft, gold rid aft, gold tip.

    Tail: Black fibers.

Credits: Favorite Flies and their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Vermont Soils with Names of American Indian Origin by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colchester, Vermont.

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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