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 Bowman

The Bowman

By Eric Austin, Delaware, Ohio


I guess I've been a fan of quill body flies since the day I caught my first trout on a Quill Gordon. Over time I've become an even stronger believer in them, having good success with Art Flick's Red Quill at Hendrickson time on our Mad River. A.K. Best visited our fly shop here a few years back, but I missed his presentation. I got there in time though to see some of the prettiest Ginger Quills he'd left behind after the show, with hackle tip wings, and began tying his flies in earnest then. From time to time, my interest in quill bodies seems to get rekindled, and now I'm back to them again. On receiving a batch of flies I'd ordered from my friend Alice Conba from Ireland a couple of weeks back, my interest was again peaked when I spotted her Dark Olive, a quill bodied wet tied in her inimitable style. I've been tying these and variations of these ever since. Here's an Olive I've done in a similar vein:

Olive Quill

There is an elegance to Alice's flies that is difficult to replicate. I know, I've been trying for two years, on and off. Her flies are quite compact, and very beautiful to my eye. They are, for me, some of the most difficult flies to tie well. The wings don't extend much past the bend of the hook, the hackle not much past the point. Her long trademark tails extend so gracefully upward. Every section of these flies present challenges, especially if one is tying them on her short-shanked Kamasan B175 hooks. So it is with some trepidation and yet with considerable pride that I show these flies, done in her style. The Bowman just cried out to be done this way, and if you look closely at the artist's rendering in Mary Orvis Marbury's book, you can see the British/Irish influence in this fly. It almost looks like one of Alice's, and so I made the connection.

One of the major differences between Alice's quill body flies and A.K. Best's flies is that Alice uses stripped peacock quills, dyed appropriately, while A.K. Best uses stripped hackle quills. The overall effect is pretty much the same, or seems so to me. I find these flies to be very effective, and look forward to trying some quill bodied wets on the Mad River here as soon as I can get out there. Here's a variation of the Red Quill that I'm quite sure I'll fish as an emerger:

Red Quill

Mary Orvis Marbury says this about the Bowman:

"The Bowman is a quill gnat, i.e. a fly having the body made of a strip of quill. It was named after Mr. William H. Bowman, of Rochester, N.Y., associated as Fish Commissioner for the State of New York with General R.U. Sherman, R.B. Roosevelt, Eugene Blackford, and Seth Green, men well known to the angling fraternity for the efforts they have so constantly and generously made to further all fishing interests. Mr. Bowman is a skillful fisherman as well as an able fish commissioner. A fly indorsed(sic) by his name is without doubt good."

There's little doubt in my mind that it's a good fly, and I'll be proving that shortly. One could make a connection between this fly and the Quill Gordon, but to my mind they are very much two different flies. The Quill Gordon I see as an early season fly, much darker than this one, larger with different wings, and my feeling about the Bowman is that it might work later in the season for the lighter colored hatches. I guess we'll find out. Here's the recipe for the Bowman (shown at the top of the page):

    Tail: Light dun

    Body: Natural stripped peacock herl

    Wing: Light mallard (coot used in this example)

    Hackle: Light dun

Credits: Favorite Flies and their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury; Alice Conba, who's taught me most of what I know. If you'd like to see Alice's flies, I'd suggest a visit here: /flytier/aconba/aconba.htm

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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