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?

Snowie's #5 for the Ness

Snowies #5
By Eric Austin, Ohio

We return to our old friend Francis Francis this week, and his Book on Angling for a fly designed for the Ness. Yes, this is the Ness of Loch Ness fame in Scotland, and he describes the river as follows:

"The Ness is a large and heavy river issuing from a very large lake, Loch Ness, which is fed by several good salmon streams, of which the Garry is perhaps the most noteworthy. The Garry is an excellent early spring river, whereas the Ness, through which all the Garry fish run, is, but an indifferent one. The Ness is a fair summer river, and also gives plenty of grilse and large sea-trout to the rod; later on, the salmon run of the largest size. The streams, and pools on the Ness are remarkably fine and bold. The casts are mostly fished from a boat, though, in places, they can be fished from the shore."
All of this I find quite stunning, because I know I saw a documentary on television looking into the question of the Loch Ness monster. It was pointed out that the monster couldn't possibly exist because Loch Ness was complete devoid of fish, and there would be nothing on which the monster could feed. Apparently, that documentary filmmaker hadn't a clue, or something's changed drastically for the worse since 1867, I'm not sure which.

The monster aside, the creator of the fifth fly listed for the Ness is also something of a mystery. Francis Francis says quite cryptically, at the end of the recipe for fly #8, "The above patterns, with an exception or two, are from the selection of my worthy gossip Snowie, of Inverness." So this fly might have been Snowie's, or might not. Regardless of who the true inventor was, it's a pretty one, a "capital fly" as Francis Francis would put it, and when fishing the Ness I would imagine one could always hold out the hope of bagging a monster during the salmon runs, if not THE monster.

I'm going to list the recipe here exactly as it's shown in the book, to give you an idea what you're facing when trying to put together one of these flies from the old books. Seal was apparently not a material used often by the fly dressing acquaintances of Francis Francis, instead, pig's wool was the order of the day. I have some actual pig's wool, harvested and dyed by William Bailey of Fort Wayne Indiana. It's marvelous stuff really, more wiry and curly than seal, perhaps an even better material for use with these flies than seal, I don't know. The use of seal supplanted pig's wool in the manufacture of full dress flies as time went on, and seal is always a good substitute. Anyway, I'll explain some things about the recipe using brackets.

No. 5. Tag, silver tinsel and blue floss; tail, one topping [this means golden pheasant crest]; butt, black ostrich; body, three turns of gold-coloured(sic) floss[the rear 2/3 or so of the body is gold floss]; the rest bright yellow pig's wool; silver tinsel [silver tinsel rib]; orange-yellow hackle over the wool only [hackle starts where the pig's wool starts], with a purple claret at shoulder [hackle wound at the front of the fly, just before the wing, sometimes after]; mixed wing [married wing] of gold pheasant tail, pintail, gallina fibres(sic), red, yellow, and orange swan fibres(sic) [some tiers actually marry ALL of these, others marry the longer ones that are more easily married, taking the gallina (guinea) and pintail and marrying those "sides," as I've done here]; kingfisher cheeks; and blue macaw ribs [horns in later lexicography].

As you can see, many things are assumed in these recipes, and some are left to your own interpretation. He makes no mention of a topping for this fly, but I've used my artistic license and added one, as was customary. I've just gotten my license back, after it was confiscated at the border by customs, on a recent trip to Canada. They were looking for contraband Worhol, and I fit the profile. It's no easy task to figure out some of these recipes, or to come up with a plan for putting the materials together. I think the thing that many of us do is look at as many old pictures as we can find, getting an idea of what was common practice, and going from there. It's a process, and the rewards are great.

Credits: A Book on Angling by Francis Francis. ~ EA

About Eric:

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

Archive of Old Flies

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice