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?

The Rest of the Story

By Gerald E. Wolfe (RW)

When the lightning bolt of fame, if not fortune, struck Dan Cahill of Port Jervis, N.Y. back in 1884, it only left him a footnote in the annals of fly fishing history. I guess that's enough if the story is still being told 120 years later.

When Dan wasn't fishing or tying flies he was a brakeman on the old Erie and Lackawana Railroad. One steamy, hot summer day in the Catskills, Dan was working a Lackawana freight north of Port Jervis. On board were can of big brood stock rainbow trout, presumably headed for the Caledonia fish hatchery in upstate New York. When his own train was blocked by a derailed work train, Cahill knew the trout would never make it in the mid-summer heat.

Taking action quickly, Dan talked his fellow crew members into helping him carry the heavy can of trout back to Calicoon Creek and dump them. It was almost a mile, but the big rainbows not only survived the ordeal, they flourished in the little Catskill stream, and that unscheduled stocking and their offspring eventually spread throughout the Delaware watershed.

Rainbows were later stocked in the Esopus and other Catskill streams of the Hudson River drainage. To this day their ancestors provide the finest rainbow trout fishing in the east.

Edward Ringwood Hewitt, the famous fishing writer and fish culturist on the Neversink River, was a fishing companion of Cahill during that period. As a consummate story teller, Hewitt was fond of telling the rainbow trout story to his friends and that gave old Dan Cahill a permanent place in fly fishing history.

Cahill's real claim to fame, though, was his creation of the Cahill fly. Ray Bergman author of the best selling Trout in 1938, said of the Light Cahill, "If it was necessary to confine my assortment of flies to only two or three, this would be one of them." Strong words from the man who wrote the definitive work on trout up until that time.

"It is an eastern pattern," Bergman added, "particularly effective in the Catskill waters and similar eastern mountain streams." Be he further added that it served him well in Michigan in the Mid-west and Wyoming and California in the Far West.

Art Flick, of Westkill N.Y., in his famous little Stream Guide to Natural and Their Imitations, said of the Light Cahill, "To this date I have never met a fisherman who had fished any stream where trout could not be taken on this fly. It is doubtful if any fly compares with it in popularity, especially in the East."

The Cahill regular, or Dark Cahill as it is most often tied, was probably the fly that Dan originally created. It was a "particularly killing fly" for brook trout according to Bergman.

The brown trout was still several years from being introduced in this country and the accidental rainbow stock had just been set in motion. It appears Dan Cahill had created and fished this fly for his native brook trout that thrived in the Catskills.

History credits Theodore Gordon with starting the Cahill flies on their journey to become one of the most prominent wet and dry fly combination in history. Dan Cahill, himself, is credited with creating a lighter version of the fly, but apparently the split between the dark and light version originated in Gordon's vise.

William Chandler, who tied for the venerable William Mills and Sons of New York City, tied an even lighter version that was to remain the standard dressing for decades. Not to be denied, Rube Cross, another famous Catskill fly tier, got into the act by tying a pattern with an almost white body.

Presently, the Dark Cahill remains almost like the original, while its more famous partner keeps changing and evolving into mixtures of cream, yellow and white.

The Cahills imitate a family of mayflies, Stenonema. They begin hatching in late May and continue through June, while similar light flies emerge sporadically throughout the summer. As one write put it, "they have a long shelf life." The Cahill is "hatch specific" and the naturals emerge from late afternoon through the evening. On overcast days there may be an occasional morning hatch.

For the last several years I have used the Cahills, both dark and light, wet and dry, almost exclusively for my brook trout fishing here in Maine; although I must admit, I use the wet fly more than the dry. Bergman was right. It is a "killing fly" and it has a century's worth of history and testimonial to back up that claim. History also shows that Dan Cahill had to share the credit for his popular fly's creation with other, more famous, tiers of the time. On the other hand, he did come away with one thing the others didn't. It bears "his" name.

Light Cahill Wet

Light Cahill Wet
Tied by Gerald E. Wolfe

    Hook: Mustad 3904 or TMC 3761; 10-16.

    Thread: White or Cream 6/0.

    Tail: Lemon wood duck flank fibers.

    Body: Cream to white rabbit dubbing.

    Hackle: Cream to white, hen or rooster saddle.

    Wing: Lemon wood duck flank fibers.

    Dark Cahill Wet

    Dark Cahill Wet
    Tied by Gerald E. Wolfe

    Hook: Mustad 3904 or TMC 3761; 10-16.

    Thread: Black 6/0.

    Tail: Lemon wood duck flank fibers.

    Body: Tan rabbit or muskrat dubbing.

    Hackle: Dark ginger hen.

    Wing: Lemon wood duck flank fibers.
    ~ Gerald E. Wolfe (RW)

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