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?


By Eric Austin, Ohio

Here's a little snippet from a letter by C.B. Burnham written to Mary Orvis Marbury for the Canada and New Brunswick section of Favorite Flies:

"On one occasion, while fishing with a companion from a oat, my chum struck a three-pound trout, a fine fellow, which gave fine sport. We had broken the staff of our landing-net, and the problem was how to land the fish. A shotgun, which was a component of our outfit, was loaded and in the boat; at the proper moment, while my companion handled the fish, I saluted the trout by discharging a load of shot at his head, and by that means saved the fish."

I'm not sure "saved" is a word I might have used. A surer method of landing a fish has yet to be developed to this day. The term "shooting fish in a barrel" leaps to mind. It is important to remember here that catch and release is a relatively new concept, and this incident happened in the mid 1800s. It was a different day, to be sure.

So how does this week's fly fit into all this? Well, it doesn't really, other than the Raven was quite a popular fly in Canada back in this era, and was used primarily for black bass. C. W. Bunn writes to Mary the following:

"One more word in regard to flies for black bass fishing, which may be of interest. I have no hesitation in placing the Raven at the head of the list, and the Blue Bottle next. Without exception, where I have seen these flies used they have taken two to one as many fish as any others, and I have frequently found black bass rising freely to these flies when it was almost impossible to allure them with anything else."

And what of the fish dispatched with the shotgun by C. B. Burnham? I think Edgar Allen Poe said it best: "Quoth the raven, Nevermore."

Here's the recipe:

    Wing: Black crow

    Hackle: Black

    Body: Black chenille, silver tip.

    Tail: Black crow and yellow fiber.

Credits: Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury. ~ 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

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