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?


By Larry Bordas, Pennsylvania

I had only been fly fishing a few years and was doing my best to learn all the different flies when I found myself at the Williamsport Trout Kick Off watching Don Bastian tying some of the old classic wet flies. I already had some experience with your basic nymphs, streamers and dry flies, but this was the first I had seen the old wet flies. After watching Don apply a whip finish and pulled his hands away from a completed fly, I was hooked. Since then, wet flies have had a prominent place in my fly box, and if I'm not trying to match the hatch you can be sure I'm swinging these winged beauties. The addition of the classic wet flies to my fly box arsenal has made my fishing more successful and if possible more enjoyable. I believe fishing wet flies, especially the classics will also add to your fly fishing experience. With hundreds of wet flies available, I am always searching for and fishing with a few new ones, but like most fishermen I have some favorites that I would put on a short list. One of the flies on my short list would be the Alder.

The Alder is a very old fly that has been tied in England for hundreds of years. Writing in his book History of Fly Fishing For Trout author Major Hills suggest the Alder may go back to the year 1496 and was included in one of the earliest fly fishing books Fysshe and Fysshynge by Dame Juliana Berners. Most of the Alder patterns we see today are reflective of those early English flies, and according to Preston Jennings, the lack of success with copies of the English flies might be explained because the English insect has a slight different color then the American alder. Jennings takes it one step farther and even separates the American Alder found in the East from the Western version and offers flies to match. Other authors and tiers have noticed this difference and have made small adjustments to copy the insect found on this side of the Pond. In his book Flies J. Edson Leonard list eight different versions of the alder.

I have had good success with the two versions I have tied here. The first version is what I use for a dark fly early in the year. Later in the season the trout seem to prefer a lighter fly which is when I use this Alder-Gray No 2 version from Leonard's Flies. I have had considerable more success with this gray pattern since using mottled turkey for the wing in place of a solid gray wing and I like to use yellow or chartreuse floss in place of the gold tag. I have been using this lighter version quite a bit the last few years and if fact the Alder tied on a heavy size 10 hook has been my most productive fly for King salmon on New York's Salmon River.

Alder Variation

The Alder spends most of it's life buried underground and has a very short winged stage which is why fishermen are not as familiar it as they are with the caddis or mayflies. The Alder has never been a very successful dry fly, but in England and to a few of us Americans, the Alder has a undisputed reputation for catching fish and I believe this simple fly is worth giving it a try.


    Tip: Gold tinsel (variations are done with red or chartreuse wool or floss)

    Tail: Typically none, brown turkey on some

    Body: Peacock herl

    Hackle: Black

    Wing: Brown turkey

    Head: Black

Credits: History of Fly Fishing For Trout by Major Hills; Flies by J. Edson Leonard; The Book of Trout Flies by Preston J. Jennings ~ LB

About Larry:

Larry My mother always said that I got my love of the outdoors from my grandfather and it was this love of the outdoor life and to be near the great hunting and fishing that led me to relocate to Lycoming County of northern Pennsylvania. While I have been a fisherman since I was six, I have only been fly fishing and tying for the past 15 years and consider myself at best only an average fly tier and fisherman. I started teaching myself fly fishing and to tie flies by reading books and talking to other fly fishermen and as I learned about the nuts and bolts of fly fishing, such as casting, drag and matching the hatch, I slowly developed an appreciation of the history and great tradition of the sport. While learning about the history and tying these old wet flies has given me hours of enjoyment, my real enjoyment and memories comes from fishing with and sharing with others information about these historic flies. ~ LB

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