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?

Tom Tickler

Tom Tickler
By Eric Austin, Ohio

Tom Tickler appears to be a childrens game that was played in the 1700s in Great Britain. It went by other names as well, and these days we would call it "tag". The person who was "it" was Tom Tickler, and I would imagine there was some tickling involved when tagging a player. How this relates to salmon fishing is something of a mystery, but we've all had a fly that we thought, if only for a very short period of time, was "it".

I've been working quite hard on these flies of late, trying for a simpler, more elegant, sleeker look, flies that could actually be fished to some degree rather than ones that demonstrate some great technical ability or other. The first iteration I did of this one was NOT what I had in mind, and I'll show it here if only to discuss some of its shortcomings. What I was going for was an old fashioned mixed wing look, which involves a lot of single strands thrown together, something I'm instinctively incapable of doing, so I just marry them. Here's the fly, I'll go on to explain what I didn't like.

Tom Tickler mixed wing

The look I was trying to get with this fly was a low-set mixed wing, with well-ordered body hackle similar to that shown in old engravings of these flies from books done in the 1800s, and above all a small, good looking head. I've stopped using any tricks at all like faux hackle to fill in spots behind the wing, and glue of any kind to stabilize things at the head. So a larger head many times results, or one that has a shape I don't prefer. The wax I use adds a bit to the bulk. I was happy with the size of the head, it's quite small so my attention to thread wraps there really paid off, but was not in love with the shape. The wing, while OK, wound up being higher than I wanted, though just a bit. All in all, I would have probably killed to do this fly six months ago, but I've been trying to take these to the next level, and this fly wasn't there, or at least wasn't at my perception of there. Oh yeah, I hated the throat too, and it was too long.

To make matters worse, I found some flies on-line by a marvelous fly dresser from England, Paul Little, and there in all its splendor was a Tom Tickler, infinitely superior to mine. Paul Little is the master of simple elegance, and the influence of a great American fly dresser Marvin Nolte is there, but understated. So the result of my exposure to Paul's version of the fly is up on the top of the page, one I'm quite happy with, though it has short comings as well, as do most flies if you really look. It's in no way a copy of Paul's, completely different actually right down to the recipe itself, but the simple elegance I was looking for is there in the end. The head's not so bad either, I'd love to do that one every time out.

We all have influences and people whose work inspires us. Mine seem endless to me at times, but that's what keeps it interesting and keeps us going. There are so many very good fly tiers around, it can at times be disheartening to look at something you've done and compare it with others. But it's the only way to get better yourself, and I think that good fly tying of any sort is a journey that entails constant renewal. I hope you'll give the Tom Tickler a go, it's a good, no-nonsense, basic salmon fly that demands your complete attention. Here's the recipe I used from Hardy:

Tom Tickler
from John James Hardy's Salmon Fishing:

    Tag: Silver tinsel and blue floss

    Tail: A topping

    Butt: Black ostrich herl

    Body: Orange floss

    Ribs: Gold tinsel

    Hackle: Orange

    Throat: Blue hackle and guinea fowl

    Wings: Golden pheasant tail; Red swan; Bustard

    Horns: Blue macaw

    Head: Black

Credits: Salmon Fishing by John James Hardy; Fishing by H. Cholmondeley Pennell; ~ 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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