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 Blue Charm

Blue Charm
By Eric Austin, Ohio

There are two other references to the Blue Charm on this site, both hairwing flies. I've done the featherwing here, and this fly is a considerable departure from the artistic full dress salmon flies that I've done in the past. Let me explain.

It started when I met Art Lee in the Catskills in June. As it turns out, Art is a fanatic salmon fisherman, who travels the world seeking his quarry. He is one of three people in the world who've logged over 5000 salmon in his lifetime. On the second day of the show we were doing, he presented me with a box of 100 Williams Kirby Limerick blind eye salmon hooks, #4. I'm not talking about big hooks here, not 4/0, but smaller hooks for fishing, #4. This is quite close to a #4 wet fly hook of today, with a slightly longer shank. These hooks appear to have been made in the 1800s, and the only reference I've been able to find regarding them is in a British book from 1850.

I was quite thrilled to obtain these hooks, as you can imagine. They are quite interesting, as were a box of Carlisle hooks that he had with him, from Norway. The hook points are bent outward, at an angle from the shaft, as shown in this picture:

Carlisle Hook [Williams Kirby Limerick photo]

Another interesting facet of these hooks is the roughening of the shank around the blind eye area. I can only assume that this is to help the gut grip the shank, and saves the tier a step. In addition, I find that setting the hook in a vise does NOT at all compromise the finish on these hooks, nor did I ever for a second think that it would. I hope that today's makers of very expensive blind eye hooks will take note of this. It should not be necessary to encase the bend of the hook in a business card to "protect" the finish of a hook. If they could make a solid hook finish in the 1800s, before the industrial revolution, we should be able to do it today. Call this pet peeve number 3006.

Mr. Lee asked that I tie him "a couple" of flies on these hooks. He showed me some wonderfully done flies by Clovie Arsenault, the legendary Canadian tier, and some tied by his long-time friend Galen Mercer. It was obvious that these flies, fishing flies, were a far cry from what I'd been doing in the artistic realm. These flies were built like battleships, with larger heads, full collar hackle, with durability being the number one concern.

I set out to do some of these, the Red Abbey because Art Lee mentioned the fly, and the Blue Charm because I always liked it. In the interest of durability I took the gut all the way to the end of the shank, nicked it along its length, bound it tightly with two complete wraps of thread, and zap-a-gapped the whole deal along the entire length. This eye is not coming off, ever. I took a good look at Poul Jorgenson's book Salmon lies, as I think it best bridges the gap between fishing flies and artistic flies. I wrapped the hackle rather than doing a faux hackle as Jorgenson recommends in his book, because the flies Art showed me had collared hackles, many in front of the wing. I've got to think these have more action. I studied flies by Jerry Doak, Warren Duncan, and Jerome Malloy, the great Canadian tiers. This has really been fun, educational, and I hope to send Art Lee a batch of flies soon. Here's the recipe for the Blue Charm:

The Blue Charm

    Hook:Williams Kirby Limerick hook, #4 (use whatever suits our fancy, Tiemco makes some very reasonable eyed hooks in small sizes that would be perfect)

    Tag: Silver tinsel, yellow floss.

    Tail: Topping of gold pheasant crest.

    Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel.

    Body: Black floss.

    Hackle: Light blue.

    Wing: Bronze mallard with narrow strips of teal over.

    Topping: Golden pheasant crest.

    Head: Black.

It should be noted that many versions of this fly, more modern ones, use turkey in the wing. This recipe comes from Salmon Fishing" by John James Hardy. Many modern recipes also leave off the topping.

Credits: Salmon Fishing John James Hardy; The Atlantic Salmon Fly by Judith Dunham; Salmon Flies, their Character, Style and Dressing by Poul Jorgenson ~ 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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