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?

Little Black Stonefly

Little Black Stonefly
By Eric Austin, Ohio

This might just be the most annoying hatch we have on our Mad River here in Ohio. When I first spotted these flies swarming over the riffles early in the season I thought they must be some kind of small caddis. The fish were rising and I was putting fly after fly over them, coming up empty. It was only later that I found out that these bugs were tiny black stoneflies. I didn't even know that the Mad contained any stoneflies at all, but it does in the spring. They seem to swarm about a foot off the water in groups, and when the fish are on them they get very selective.

This particular imitation is from a book called Chauncy Lively's Flybox. My friend Jim Andrix put this one aside for me when it got marked down to half price at our local fly shop. He knows me only too well. Any book that was written in the '70s is a must-have for me, as well as any book that has black and white photographs. Jim knows this, and has sold me a lot of books. Chauncy Lively was a very inventive tier, from the Vince Marinaro Pennsylvania spring creek school, and this book contains many subtle and creative ideas where fly design is concerned. You can see how Chauncy Lively approaches a given insect and tries to come up with a reasonably simple impressionistic imitation; all the while keeping things like fly floatation and durability in mind. Chauncy lived on the North Branch of Michigan's Au Sable River from 1984 until his death from complications from pneumonia on February 24, 2000. Chauncy was 81.

Each fly has step-by-step tying instructions, complete descriptions of the insect in question, along with a picture of the bug being imitated. The use of the wonder wing as a down-wing on this fly will give you some idea of Lively's creativity, and I find all the flies in the book to be very functional and easy to tie. This fly couldn't have taken me three minutes, and that included getting the materials out of the drawer. I'm really looking forward to trying this one next spring. Here's the recipe:

Little Black Stonefly

    Hook: #20 dry fly hook.

    Hackle: Dark chocolate brown, tied fore and aft, clipped flat on top, with a "V" trimmed from the bottom.

    Body: Underfur from rabbit's foot dubbed on thread. Wing: A wonder wing formed from black hackle.

    Head: Black lacquer.

Lively prepares the wonder wing ahead of time and coats it with vinyl cement. I tied mine in right on the fly. To make a wonder wing, just stroke back a hackle toward the base or stem, pinching it when you get the wing shape. You can then tie it in where you're pinching, or put hackle pliers on at the pinch and cement it. You then cut the tip of the hackle off at the end of the wing. This photo should give you the idea:

Wonder Wing

Credits: Chauncy Lively's Flybox by Chauncy Lively. ~ 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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