1883 Orvis Flies

Actual flies from 1883 Orvis book, Fishing With the Fly. From top left: Bee, Tomah Joe, No Name, Blue Bottle, Grasshopper, and Canada.

This is a photo I took of an actual mounted Plate of Lake Flies, taken back in October when I was at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont (besides my visit to The Wantastiquet Lake Trout Club a.k.a. Fish in a Barrel Pond). I thought the flies looked familiar; when I returned home I checked my library. They are not from Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, but rather these patterns appeared in a book her father co-authored in 1883 with A. Nelson Cheney, Fishing With the Fly.

(Important: you can click and click again on each image to bring them up to full size).

These flies are 128 years old! I thought you all would enjoy seeing them. From upper left, going row by row, the patterns are: Bee, Tomah Joe, No Name, Blue Bottle, Grasshopper, and Canada.

Note the tail on the Tomah Joe is not golden pheasant crest, but a single yellow hackle feather. The wing on the Bee is pretty badly bug-damaged, but the recipe from Marbury’s book, one of a few patterns in her work that actually says what an ingredient is; Upper body feathers, paired, from a wild turkey providing a “peculiar burnished effect.” The quotation is from the text of Favorite Flies

Here you can see the patterns from the book Lake Fly Plate image, as they were each hand-painted from the actual sample above, reproduced in the book, Fishing With the Fly, 1883.

The photo above is of the lithograph image from my first edition copy of the Charles Orvis book.

I apologize to my subscribers, but you have surely noticed that I have neglected my blog for a little more than three weeks now, sorry about that folks. I have been away for a while; I was at deer camp at my family cabin in Tioga County, Pennsylvania; not hunting so much as I was working on stuff, fly tying orders, letters, and my book project. Yes, some of you already know that I have a book contract for project titled: Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. I took my computer to camp and worked – no internet – which was probably a good thing because offline, one can stay on task more efficiently, at least I can when I don’t have the pull of e-mails and so on. And yes, we did get some venison. I made a really wonderful Venison Shepard’s Pie one night, from scratch, using the meat and broth from bones utilized from a butchered deer (we do that ourselves) that we cooked down in a large kettle for about nine hours on an outdoor wood stove. It was delish! One of my friends told me I should publish that recipe.
The 19th century fly pattern book I am working on will be a tier-friendly volume. Myself and 24 other talented tiers are replicating all 291 patterns from Marbury’s book. Some of Paul Rossman’s exact flies that were published in Forgotten Flies will also appear in this new book. The idea for this book was simply that the recipes for Marbury’s patterns are not recorded anywhere with images or photos except for Forgotten Flies, and that volume is: expensive, out-of-print and consequently inaccessible to many tiers who want to tie these patterns, and at almost twelve pounds, it is not very tier friendly. It’s hard to find room on your tying bench for Forgotten Flies, as a reference, not to mention many of us have coffee, tea, scotch, red wine, or a beer nearby on tying occasions, and the risk of spills is, well, we never spill head cement do we? Not to mention the occasional slice of sharp cheese, bologna, sardines and what-have-you as a snack. That would not be good.

As my work has progressed since the initial announcement about the Marbury / Orvis flies book, the more research I do on these pattern recipes, the more variations & discrepancies I find from current known recipes. That in itself is very interesting. There is not a ton of totally different things, but there are some. The most glaring one just discovered, is that two patterns are switched in her book, and this error was never corrected in subsequent editions. Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies, while a great book and one I love, with many of the Marbury recipes recorded in it is, I am finding out, not-so-accurate with some details on many of these patterns. A few flies have incorrect material components numbering four or even five items.

My hope and goal is to present more accurate and updated information based on my research and verification when Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892 is published. Plus, I will have access to all the original flies that are mounted on mat boards, and in the possession of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. I plan to visit there this spring to take the photos; it will be a boon to study the original flies. I’ll be able to examine the flies, make notes, and certify any new information.

There is an older topic announcement here from November with more details of the book, the list of contributing tiers, and how to reserve your advance, limited edition copy.

Below are macro photos of each actual fly and of the fly plate image from my first-edition copy of the 1883 book. Note the penciled notations on the mat board – Mary Orvis was 25 at the time. It is most likely her handwriting; I have compared it to more than 140 other flies labeled in ink by her for an 1893 Orvis Display exhibited in Chicago, that is still on display in the Museum in Vermont.

Bee – Lake Fly. Note that despite the bug damage, there is still evidence of the “peculiar burnished effect” in the turkey feather wing.

Bee – Lake Flies Color Plate Image. Look closely at what remains of the wing on the actual fly above, and compare it to the detail in the artist’s rendition of the feather markings of the wing. Quite accurate I’d say.

Tomah Joe – Lake Fly. Oval silver tinsel body, wound edge-to-edge, and an ostrich, not peacock herl butt on this one.

Tomah Joe – Lake Flies Color Plate Image

No Name – Lake Fly. Note the tarnished oval silver tinsel rib, and scarlet ibis tail and shoulder. The flat silver tinsel tag has tarnished into near oblivion, and the red floss portion has faded to a pinkish hue.

No Name – Lake Flies Plate Image

Blue Bottle – Lake Fly. The rib on this is what salmon tiers know as gold twist; oval tinsel in two strands.

Blue Bottle – Lake Flies Plate Image

Grasshopper – Lake Fly

Grasshopper – Lake Flies Plate Image

Canada – Lake Fly

Canada – Lake Flies Plate Image

I thought since I had been absent here for so long that I would make my first new post something worthwhile for my readers to enjoy. The recipes for all these flies and almost 400 others will be in my book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. I hope you all like these photos.

11 comments on “1883 Orvis Flies

  1. al aasman says:

    Very nice piece of fly fishing history, Don, with pictures good enough to really see what’s going on. Good of you to share it with those of us a few thousand miles from Manchester. You know very well what you’re doing, don’t you? — whetting appetites for “the book”! Maybe you should be thinking about a pre-print, early-order discount incentive…

    • Hi Al:
      Thanks for your comment…and observation. I’m keeping the book idea out there, I realize a little PR can’t hurt. As far as a pre-print discount, well the publisher would have to decide on that. Of course I am hoping that this book turns out well and people want to buy it. My first book contract and project, but I am genuinely interested in this work. Thanks for your appreciation of the historical aspect of it. I am happy you like the photos, they were taken while hand-holding the camera against the display case glass, no flash, shadows, etc. – not eh best, but still detailed enough to reveal details. I have more, but I can’t unload them all at once, nor can I give away all the info that will be in the book. Thanks again!

  2. Kelly L says:

    The history, the photos of the gorgeous flies, and the hints on the book, are enough to keep me enthralled for a while Don. These kinds of flies are right up my alley for sure. LOVE IT. I cannot wait to get that book in my hands when you finish it. This whole blog today was such a treat. Thanks very much!

  3. Alec Stansell says:

    Great stuff Don! Really looking forward to the book!

  4. Great post Don. I’m not the biggest fan of MOM flies, but I do like seeing what you have to say on the subject. All the best, looking forward to getting a copy of the book.

    • Ha! Aw, c’mon Darren! MOM flies and the other related 19th century patterns are the grandfathers and grandmothers of your streamers…!
      Seriously, thank you very much for your kind compliment…and sorry to not reply to your e-mail about Streamers365…yes I want to do my dang-dest to get the rest of the patterns I have for you and the project — and as I mentioned to you, I have some new concepts on some, can’t reveal more than that right now… ;- )

      Thanks again!

      • lol Perhaps once most of the Streamers 365 is behind me I can start to play with some MOMs …. (Reading that out of context could get me in trouble) I’m looking to pick up some copies of the books to get me enlightened and educated on the subject. 🙂 I do have FF and should really have a good hard look at it too.

  5. Fred Hinley says:

    Glad to see you back on line!! Looking forward to new book! Have been a member and visited the AMFF several times and am impressed each time. I also anticipate each issue of The American Fly Fisher, an excellent read!!!

    Merry Christmas, and hope you enjoy the Holiday Season.


  6. Thanks Kelly and Alec for your words of appreciation and for your support. Always nice to have folks interested…Alec I’ll see you perhaps at Marlborough before the Class at The Bear’s Den?
    Thanks again for your replies…
    Have a great holiday season!

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