Michigan Grayling

Michigan Grayling caught in 1896 or 1897, in Bear Creek. Native Grayling are extinct in Michigan, largely the result of yet another sad story of 19th century Amrican greed and environmental abuse.

The fascinating thing I just discovered today is that the second fish from the front looks like it was still alive when the photo was taken. I know this may start the discussion of the eye of a live fish always looking down, but in my lifetime of fishing, I’ve never seen that test fail. I have however, seen some fish with the dead-eye look, that I was told were, “still alive.” Another discussion perhaps. Back to the fish in question: its eye is definitely looking down. On with my post…

I guess you could say this photograph resulted in my earliest fly tying related effort that was deliberately focused on 19th century fishing flies. While I had tied traditional wet fly patterns in the 1960’s as a boy, including the Professor, for example, which was originated in 1820, I knew very little at that time about fly pattern history.

Around 2002 when I saw this print for sale in a mail order catalog, I immediately got the idea to make a frame with replicated antique Grayling fly patterns using this photo as the centerpiece. I ordered three of the photos from the supplier, The Rogue Angler, located in Medford, Oregon. The print also includes a copy of a typewritten note dated 1931, below:

Letter from J. Hanselman describing the glass plate negative and the photo.

According to the information in The Rogue Angler catalog, the original glass plate “negative was discovered in a cabin overlooking the North Branch of the AuSable River near Lovells, Michigan.”

The photo and letter may still be ordered:


I had initially made two custom framed pieces including this photo, Mr. Hanselman’s letter, and six Grayling flies, tied on blind-eye hooks with snelled loops. Late in the year 2002 I researched the Grayling flies in the Michigan section of Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories and choose selections of patterns to be framed from this list of favorite Grayling flies. Below is the letter that I created which was affixed to the backside of the frame:

In 1892 Mary Orvis Marbury published the book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. She did not write the entire book, but compiled the text with letters from fly anglers all over the country. Through this effort she, along with her father, Charles F. Orvis, was instrumental in helping to establish a system of standardization that brought order to what had previously been fly pattern chaos.

The fly patterns named below were among those listed by the following individuals who sent their favorite flies for Grayling fishing in Michigan to Marbury. Wet fly fishing was the order of the day during this time period. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, streamers had not been invented, and dry fly fishing was in its infancy. Nymph fishing was also to become a method of the future. Unfortunately, not long after this photograph was taken, native Grayling disappeared from the waters of Michigan.

These individuals sent their Grayling fly patterns to Mary Orvis Marbury:

H. N. Botsford, Port Huron, Michigan – Coachman, Bee, Brown Hackle, Red Hackle, Professor, Grizzly King, White Miller, Blue Bottle, and Gray Hackle.

F. H. Thurston – Central Lake, Michigan – Brown Hackle, Grey Miller.

John A. Sea – Independence, Missouri – Professor, Coachman, Royal Coachman, and Hackles.

G. Henry Shearer, Bay City, Michigan – Coachman, Grizzly King, Professor, Hackles, Bee, Silver Widow, and Grayling Fly.

George M. Kilmer, Lansing, Michigan – Professor, Scarlet Ibis, Coachman, White Miller, Yellow May.

Herschel Whitaker, Detroit, Michigan – Professor, Grizzly King, Cow Dung, Black Gnat, Coachman, Montreal, Silver Doctor, Red Hackle, Brown Hackle.

Frank N. Beebe, Columbus, Ohio – Silver Doctor.

W. P. Andrus, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Brown Gnat, Gray Gnat, Silver Doctor, and Grizzly King.

Written by Don Bastian, January 4, 2003.

I added the fly photos below to enhance this topic with some of the named fly patterns that were used for native Grayling. The Coachman, Cowdung, and Professor are from an old mat board with 15 mounted flies, many are severely bug-damaged, but this plate of flies was not used in either Marbury’s book or her father’s 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly.

For more information on this antique Grayling photo or to order:

The Rogue Angler



Coachman Wet Fly, circa 1880's, used for Michigan Grayling

Cowdung wet fly, circa 1880's, used for Michigan Grayling

Professor, authentic Orvis wet fly, circa 1880's used for Michigan Grayling

Brown Hackle, from Orvis 1893 Museum Display, used for Michigan Grayling. Note how stout all these hooks are, despite the relatively small size of the flies; approximately #6 to #10.

Note the border on the Professor and Coachman, I deliberately left those in without cropping so you could see that they appear to be hand-drawn in ink. The photos are not crystal sharp, but I cropped each one from a full plate of mounted flies, so they were radically enlarged, which sometimes causes degradation of clarity. The numbering is vertical rather than horizontal as in the plates of both these books. Perhaps this plate was one of the sample plates that Mary Orvis Marbury used to take on the road when she made sales calls.

10 comments on “Michigan Grayling

  1. Bob Dietz says:

    These are really cool pictures. I’ve had the pleasure of catching fluvial grayling in Montana on flies very similar (other than being tied on eyed hooks) to those shown. It’s truly tragic that they’ve been almost extirpated from the lower 48.

    I’m impressed with how over-hackled that Brown Hackle looks to my eyes.

    Is the white lump in the head of the Coachman gut or part of the wing?

    • Hi Bob;

      Thanks for the comment! Your observation is astute — the white on the head of the Coachman is the butt of the wing quills. Yes, they were tied in facing forward, then doubled back or reversed. This was done most likely to secure the wing from falling out when fished. Remember the only thread tiers back then had was cotton or silk, no high strength there, so this technique was used to increase durability. You can also see the but ends of the gray mallard wing on the Professor, this was done in the same way. And we think we have trouble tying in gray mallard just facing one direction!
      The Brown Hackle does have lots of fibers on it.
      And I have to say, but I’ll not say where, but I was in Montana summer of 2006 and caught not one, but two Grayling, both about 17″. On three casts. No fish story, it’s true! Maybe they were stocked? Do they stock them out there? That big? And I had no camera.
      Anyway, thanks for your comment!
      I’m also glad to see you and JoAnn are both signed up for the class!

  2. Marc Fauvet says:

    Lovely flies, photos and post, Don. Thanks !

    For what it’s worth, I completely agree with the up-eye = alive ‘theory’. However, it can just be temporary as a lot of improperly bonked fish are still alive…


    • Thanks Marc for your comment, appreciate it! And your input on the fish-eye. Most of the very few fish I bonk, which I always do if keeping one for the table, get a couple clouts for good measure. It’s inhumane not to kill a fish quick.

  3. Dave Lomasney says:

    ALL good stuff Don!..What I noticed in the photo of the grayling was the fishing rod. It doesn’t look like a bamboo rod. Did they make glass rods in that era? Love all the history and photos,


    • Hey Dave;
      Fiberglass rods came out after World War II. Before split bamboo, they had green heart rods, solid wood. Admittedly I don’t know much about them. They were state-of-the-art for the time.
      Thanks for your comment…

  4. Great post! I love seeing old pictures like that. I get a similar feeling when seeing old pictures of Babe Ruth or any of the other great players from that era and then seeing a signed bat next to the picture. It gives one a sense of history and your connection to it.

    • Thanks Chris!
      Appreciate it very much! Speaking of Babe Ruth, I have some salmon flies tied by Ted Williams, and his signature — there’s an interesting story to go with that. Your comment reminds me that I should take some photos of those and place them here so others can enjoy them too…but boy oh boy, there is just so much to do and only so many hours in a day.
      Thanks again, glad you liked this.

  5. Dan Glover says:

    Thanks for your vintage posts that I always enjoy reading.

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