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

As the stagecoach bounced its way North, John squirmed in his seat in an attempt to find a more conformable position. The long trip north to the Eel River seemed to get harder for John with each passing year. The train ride on the Northwest Pacific from his home in San Francisco to Sherman was pleasant enough and knowing a hot bath and comfortable bed was waiting at the end of the day, even the 105-mile stagecoach ride from Sherman to Dyerville was bearable. The second day of travel and last leg of the journey was always the most difficult for John. Located on the Eel River and its abundant steelhead runs, Dyerville was usually the final stop for most anglers but after an overnight stay in Dyerville, John would continue by stage to Pepperwood and then on to the small town of Scotia, located on the lower Eel River in northern California. It was here in Scotia that John Benn would retire and spend his golden years, fishing and tying flies.

In the 1890's West coast fishing for steelhead was normally done with long 10-foot rods and casting spoons but gradually John Benn helped change the face of steelhead fishing. In addition to the customary eastern trout flies used by most steelheaders, John started to develop and provide new patterns designed for steelhead. While Mr. Benn later went on to create original steelhead patterns there was strong evidence of the influence that the eastern trout flies had on his early flies used for steelhead. At first many of his patterns were familiar trout patterns with only slight modifications. I found it interesting that these early steelhead flies were tied on size ten and size eight hooks, rather than the larger steelhead hooks we are familiar with today.

It is generally accepted that a list of Mr. Benn's early innovations would include: the Martha, a fly named after Benn's daughter: the Soule, which is basically a Parmacheene Belle with an added jungle cock: the Carson, which could be described as a Royal Coachmen with a Parmacheene type red and white wing and remains very popular today, and the Railbird, named for the railbird feathers used for it's wing. Today the Railbird is tied in countless variations with teal or gray squirrel most commonly used to replace the gray and black barred feathers of the shy and seldom seen railbird.


    Tail: Red - wine - claret

    Body: Wine or claret wool palmered with either wine or claret hackle

    Hackle: Yellow

    Wing: Teal, gray squirrel

Credits: Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies by Trey Combs. ~ LB

About 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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