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 today's 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?


Oquossoc

Oquossoc
By Eric Austin, Ohio


Oquossoc, or landing place, was the Abenaki Indian name for what is now called Rangeley lake. It was originally settled by Squire Rangeley from Virginia, who built a home, dam and mills at the lake's outlet. He was probably the first white man to catch the legendary brook trout there, as he could have quite easily harvested all the 5 to 8 pound trout he could carry in those days.

In 1863 Mr. George Shepard Page, of New York, brought home eight trout, averaging six and a half pounds each, and three, averaging eight pounds each, were presented to his friends William Cullen Bryant, Henry J. Raymond, and George Wilkes. These men were journalists and outdoor writers who naturally wrote about this, and so began a gold-rush like stampede to the region by outdoorsmen bent on catching these huge fish.

George S. Page had a serious ego. He was a stock broker at a pre-eminent firm in New York, fancied himself a sportsman and outdoorsman, and liked to think of himself as a sort of Johnny Appleseed, a fish culturist, propagating trout wherever he went, in the mold of Seth Green, New York State's fish commissioner. Unhappily, Mr. Page was not a zoologist or ichthyologist or someone who knew the first thing about stocking fish and the implications thereof. He was a stock broker. This didn't stop him, and soon, he and his friend R.G. Allerton started up the Oquossoc Angling Association, a group dedicated to the preservation and further enhancement of fishing in the Rangeley region. With their significant influence in government, this group was able to do many fine things, not the least of which was to ram through some much-needed fish and game laws, stopping the slaughter of fish each Fall on Bemis stream, where fish were yanked out by gaffs and salted away in barrels by the locals.

Of course Mr. Page had his own fly, named, not coincidently, the Page, shown here:

Page

A description of the club as it was in 1886 is found in the June edition of Outing magazine:

"The sight of well-kept lawns, a novelty in the lake country, is a temptation to land at the boat-house, with its neat array of boats and fish cars, and to visit the main camp. Of its hundred feet of length a general sleeping room occupies three-fifths. This takes up the width of the building, thirty feet, and it is thirty feet from the floor to the rafters of the roof. Rows of beds are ranged along the sides and in one corner rises a great chimney in which yawns a huge stone fire-place. The other end of the camp contains a dining room and kitchen, and near by is another camp divided into sleeping rooms for the use of members accompanied by their wives. This association, which was founded in 1870, is the largest and I believe the oldest fishing club upon these lakes."

Page cannot be solely blamed for the enormous influx of fishermen to the region in the late 1800s, word would have gotten out, but it must be said he did his share. Each of these fishermen could legally take out 50 pounds of fish, PER DAY, and many did. Page's real damage was done in 1875, when he and his gang introduced landlocked salmon into the fishery, along with a forage fish for them to eat, the rainbow smelt, in an effort to spur the already flagging fishing. They did this, I'm sure, with the best of intentions, in the spirit of the sportsmen they all considered themselves to be. The road to a very bad place is often paved with these intentions however, and here's what happened.

There was a small, virtually unknown trout in the region called the blueback, Salvelinus Alpinus Oquassa, named for their discovery in Lake Oquassa, yet another Abenaki name for Rangeley lake. These small forage fish were the reason Rangeley Region brook trout grew to such large size. By 1900 they were extinct, thanks largely to the efforts of Mr. Page. The smelt now shared their plankton, and they had two predators, the brook trout and the salmon, eyeing them for dinner. The best laid plans of mice and men.

I'd like to end this on a happy note, but the truth is, we're still at it today, still with the best of intentions, still sportsmen all. Some bluebacks have been found in some of the region's headwaters, and their reintroduction goes on as we speak. This may or may not bear fruit, and I'm personally not sure it's all that good an idea anyway. At the same time, some moron has dumped a few buckets of smallmouth bass into Lake Umbagog, and they are spreading like wildfire throughout the water shed, laying waste to juvenile brookies. The Rapid River still has five pound brook trout, for how long is a question, but word has it that now one has to catch 20 smallmouth before getting to a single brookie. There is an attempt to destroy the bass fry by releasing pulses of water from middle dam at specific times of the year, driving the adults from nests, leaving the fry to fend for themselves. With the help of a grant from Orvis, tests have shown that this plan is sorta kinda working, and we are still at it. Still at it as sportsmen all, still at it with the best of intentions. Like George S. Page, we're still at it. Do we know much more now than George did back in the 1800's? I'm not completely convinced we do, but we think we do, and that's the important thing. We do know now that introducing a foreign species into a given eco-system is a bad idea. Most of us do anyway, I'm not counting that idiot who dumped the bass into Umbagog. My fondest wish is that, at some point, we could learn to leave well enough alone, but I'm not optimistic. In a couple of weeks I'll talk about the Adirondacks. The news from there is not quite so good.

Brook trout or no brook trout, fly tying is still fun no matter what. Here are recipes for the Oquossoc and Page:

Oquossoc

    Tip: Gold tinsel

    Tag: Yellow silk floss

    Tail: Golden pheasant tail

    Body: Scarlet floss

    Hackle: Scarlet tied palmer

    Wing: Golden pheasant tail

    Head: Black ostrich herl

Page

    Tip: Gold tinsel

    Tail: Guinea

    Ribbing: Gold tinsel

    Body: Crimson or scarlet floss

    Hackle: Scarlet

    Wing: Guinea with scarlet stripes

Credits: Brook Trout by Nick Karas; Fishing Rangeley Down East magazine, April 2008; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; Trout by Ray Bergman; Carrie Stevens by Graydon R. Hilyard; Outing Volume Vlll Issue 3 June 1886 "Trout Fishing In Maine" by Ripley Hitchcock;

~ EA

About Eric:

Eric Eric lives in Delaware, Ohio and fishes for brown trout in the Mad River, a beautiful spring creek. More of his flies are on display here: Traditionalflies.com -- Classic salmon and trout flies of Europe and the Americas.

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