Wet Fly Frame – Snelled Flies on Antique Hooks

Custom fly frame - snelled wet flies dressed on antique hooks

The lighting is not the best for this photo of this frame, but I posted this enlarged view of the whole piece so you can get an idea of its size and scope. Also, it’s hard to accurately present a vertical image like this on the medium of a horizontal computer screen. The dimensions are about 13″ by 18.” I have macro images of each pattern, and they are posted in alpha order below. I was not getting good results with a flash photo; the ivory background causes too much bounce-back of the light, and the flies and whole image is way overexposed.

This piece was made for a customer who lives in the Adirondacks of New York State. The brook trout photo is the same one used in a frame with my wet flies ordered a few years ago by another customer (framed by someone else); the two individuals happen to be friends. I used four pound Japanese post-war silk gut to make the snells; then I coiled them twice as I observed was done by Mary Orvis Marbury and her assistants for the 1893 Orvis Display that appeared at the Chicago Exposition that year. On the macros you can see the flies, hooks, and snells up close. I really enjoyed making this piece. I made a similar set of flies about ten years ago for the frames I did with the Grayling flies (see that recent post, Michigan Grayling Photo).

Here, added today January 6th, is an e-mail I received from my customer; Vic Sasse of North Country Sports in North River, New York:

“Hi Don,

Your package arrived yesterday, before I read your e-mail which contained the photo of my frame. I carefully unpacked the frame which was very well packed. I am absolutely astounded with what you have created for me, and I want you to know I truly appreciate your artistic ability. This frame is undoubtedly one of my finest possessions, and my friend Ed Ostapczuk who introduced you to me is happy for me also. I love it!!!!!”

This review and customer appreciation is always a good thing, I am obviously very pleased that he is satisfied.

These flies are not all dressed from the recipes of a certain source, but they are generally representative of the style of 19th century trout flies. I tied the King of the Woods from memory several months ago, and mistakenly got the order of colors in the wing mixed up, not to mention that what I thought was black in the wing as viewed on the color plate from Marbury’s 1892 book Favorite Flies and Their Histories is actually red, brown, and white, in that order from top down, as verified by my photo of the King of the Woods from the 1893 display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book Flies lists a wing and hackle dressing for the King of the Woods that clearly differs from what is depicted on the color plate of Marbury’s book. Doing a double-take on the painted King of the Woods in Marbury’s book, the dark color in the wing does not look black like some of the other “blacks” on the color plates, but has more of brownish tint.

I am really enjoying discovering differences and being able to verify some of the Orvis fly pattern recipes – and this revised pattern information, all of it, as it is compiled, to the best of my ability, will be published in my book, The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury.

Adirondack wet fly, this pattern is from Ray Bergman's book Trout, and differs radically from the same named pattern in Marbury's Favorite Flies and Their Histories, written 46 years earlier.

These hooks are all authentic antique Mustad No. 3370, size #7, marked, japanned blind-eye hooks. The gut is Japanese silk – 4#, in mist coloration, made in occupied Japan, post World War II.


Tag: Yellow floss

Tail: Black hackle fibers

Body: Gray dubbing

Hackle: Orange

Wing: White duck quill

On a related note, I had success fishing the Adirondack in size #6, in August 2006 on Montana’s Madison River above Ennis; I hooked and landed seven trout on it, including my biggest fish of the day, a brown measuring nineteen inches. Took him out of a small, deep pocket below a boulder as the drift boat passed by. The first trout of the day took the fly as the drift boat was barely out of the gate, my host hardly had time to start the drift until I hollered the magic words, “Fish on!”

Parmacheene Belle

Parmacheene Belle

 Parmacheene Belle

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: White and red duck quill sections – married

Butt: Black ostrich herl

Rib: Flat silver tinsel

Body: Yellow wool or dubbing

Hackle: Red and white mixed

Wing: White with scarlet stripe – married

Head: Peacock herl

I have fished the Parmacheene Belle with great success. It is a favorite of my niece, Emily, who by the way is one of Maine’s newest Wardens – she graduated number 2 in the class of 54 Cadets this past December. She has caught trout and landlocked salmon in her home state.

King of the Woods - a slight variation because the color sequence of the wing is out of order (my fault, tying from memory). See recipe notes below and in text above.

King of the Woods

Tag:                Flat gold tinsel

Tail:                Yellow and scarlet – married

Rib:                 Oval gold tinsel

Body:             Yellow floss

Hackle:         Black

Wing:             Scarlet, brown, and white – married. The scarlet and brown combined should comprise the upper half of the wing, the bottom half is white.

Head:             Red wool or thread, or black if desired. Note the unfinished rather rough looking head on the 1893 fly below.

This written recipe is the correct one from Marbury’s 1982 book and has been verified with a photograph of the King of the Woods from her 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. The actual fly above was tied from a different photo on the cover of Adirondack Life magazine, a 1987 issue. It was done by another fly tier, so I copied the pattern visually last year and incorporated it into my classes as a blind-eye snelled wet fly pattern. On top of that pattern variation, I tied the above sample from memory last March, so while the sequence of the wing colors is supposed to be white, brown (at the time I though black), and  red, I erred in mixing them up. Technically that fact alone does not change the pattern significantly, but I am anal detail-oriented when tying flies according to recipes and standards, any type of fly for that matter, unless I’m on a creative bent. Through study of the color plate image of Favorite Flies and Their Histories, I had believed the wing to be white, black, and red. But the photo I took of this fly in October while at the museum verified what I thought to be black in the wing as brown, and the hackle was black as opposed to dark green as listed in Leonard’s Flies. The King of the Woods is a beautiful wet fly pattern, a fancy fly typical of many 19th century wet flies, designed to lure the exotic appeal of native brook trout into a strike. I have never fished this pattern, but I can tell you, I plan to. Posted below is my photo of the King of the Woods from the 1893 Orvis Display.

King of the Woods - Lake Fly - from 1893 Orvis Museum Display, the hand-writing is that of Mary Orvis Marbury. Some of the colors are faded and the oval tinsel rib is tarnished. Note the reverse-tied wing, and the gut-loop eye; the Favorite Flies and Their Histories version is illustrated with a snell.


This version of the Logan differs from the version in Ray Bergman’s 1938 book, Trout, but is as it appears in the books he penned before and after Trout. The color plate painting in Just Fishing, 1932, and the painting and recipe in With Fly, Plug, and Bait, 1947, records the dressing for the Logan as I have tied it here. Instead of a red and orange wing and tail as listed in Trout, this version sports red and yellow, and the peacock herl head, a typical older technique, was part of the color plate image in Just Fishing. I added it here to give the pattern a more “retro” look.


Tag:          Flat gold tinsel

Tail:          Red and yellow – married

Rib:           Flat gold tinsel

Body:       Brown floss

Hackle:    Brown

Wing:       Yellow with red stripe – married

Head:       Black with peacock herl


The McGinty is very similar to the old Orvis pattern, the Bee, that I posted here after this topic, as tied by my friend Dave Lomasney from York, Maine.


Tail:          Mallard and scarlet

Body:       Black and yellow chenille

Hackle:    Brown:

Wing:        White tipped turkey or mallard flight feather with iridescent blue

Head:        Black

Prime Gnat

Named after its originator, W. C. Prime, author of the 19th century book, I Go A Fishing.

Prime Gnat

Tag:             Orange floss

Body:          Black ostrich herl

Hackle:      Black

Wing:          Black – crow was original

Head:          Black


By the time Mary Orvis Marbury wrote Favorite Flies and Their Histories, the Professor was already over seventy years old. It is of Scottish origin, created in 1820. The Professor was on my fly tying list and in my fly boxes from the time I was thirteen years old.


Tag:          Flat gold tinsel

Tail:         Scarlet duck quill

Rib:          Flat gold tinsel

Body:      Yellow floss

Hackle:   Brown

Wing:       Gray mallard

Head:       Black

Queen of the Waters

Queen of the Waters

Hackle:        Brown tied palmer

Body:           Orange floss

Wing:           Gray mallard or teal

Head:          Peacock herl and black

This is a very simple fly with just three components, not including the peacock herl head, which is not done much these days, even among those replicating “classic” wet flies. Some dressings add a tail of brown hackle fibers.

Royal Coachman

The Royal Coachman is among the most famous of all wet flies, and one that has survived in various forms. Consider the Royal Wulff, a dry pattern sold in virtually every fly shop still in business in 2011; the Royal Coachman wet fly is the Great-grandfather of the Royal Wulff.

Royal Coachman

Tag:          Flat gold tinsel

Tail:          Barred wood duck  – This was later replaced with golden pheasant tippet, probably as a result of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that gave wood ducks protected status nationwide until 1941. Most states did not allow resumption of wood duck hunting until 1959.

Body:        Peacock herl with red floss center

Hackle:      Brown

Wing:         White

Head:        Peacock herl and black

This Royal Coachman, while not exactly tied to be a MOM – Orvis pattern, is no doubt representative of how this pattern was tied by the many other companies in business before the turn of the 20th Century. The Royal Coachman was a very popular pattern. This specimen is tied as the old version with the barred wood duck tail as it first appeared in Fishing With the Fly, 1883, by Charles Orvis and A. Nelson Cheney, and also in Mary Orvis Marbuy’s Favorite Flies and Their Histories nine years later.

I did not add the red floss part of the tag as their dressing images show, but rather I tied this fly as part of a custom frame order, kind of tying the recipes from memory and making them look generic for the time period, and “older” on the blind eye hook and gut snell.
As time passed the production of commercially tied flies grew, and as with any manufacturing operation, companies look for ways to cut costs. Many of the extra accoutrements in the dressings, such as multiple tail components, two-part tags, butts, peacock and ostrich herl heads, etc. were omitted in the interest of lowering costs and increasing worker productivity. There were many old, small companies making flies, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 had a bearing on the diversion and use of the exotic feathers from that point onward; plumage that was available to these companies for their indiscriminate use in the 19th Century suddenly diasppeared. This caused many flies to be reduced in dressing; and may have been the reason why the tail on the Royal Coachman was changed to the more commonly known golden pheasant tippet. It is also one reason why the patterns in Bergman’s Trout, 1938, are simplified in some cases when compared to the Orvis 19th Century dressings. Bergman most likely used pattern recipes indicative of what was being mass-produced at the time, especially since he continued to have a good relationship with his former employer, William Mills and Sons, just one of many companies in fishing fly manufacture at the time. The federal protection of exotic and endangered birds contributed to this ‘dressing down’ of fly patterns.



Tag:         Flat gold tinsel

Tail:         Golden pheasant crest

Rib:          Flat gold tinsel

Body:       Claret floss

Hackle:    Claret

Wing:        Golden pheasant tippet with narrow bronze mallard over

Head:       Peacock herl and black

The Saranac that I replicated here, is as many of these patterns are, sourced in Ray Bergman’s books, dressed a bit more minimally than their 19th century ancestors of the Orvis books, but in some cases, these flies are virtually the same or nearly so as ones made 50 – 75 years earlier.

Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis was named because the feathers to dress it originally came from the bird of the same name. After 1918 the Scarlet Ibis was protected.

Scarlet Ibis

Tag:            Flat gold tinsel

Tail:           Scarlet duck quill section

Rib:             Flat gold tinsel

Body:         Scarlet floss

Hackle:     Scarlet

Wing:         Scarlet duck quill

Head:         Black

Soldier Palmer

The Soldier Palmer was a popular old pattern belonging to a group collectively known as “hackles.”

Soldier Palmer

Tag:        Flat gold tinsel

Rib:        Flat gold tinsel

Body:     Red wool

Hackle:  Brown tied palmer, full at throat

Head:      Black

Finally, because I know someone will ask, these flies are tied with the Lagartun wire, cut into short pieces about 5/8″ long, which are then bent at ninety degrees and tied into the body as the fly is tied. This allows me to quickly, easily, and invisibly mount the fly – my proprietary method – it’s in an older post on classicflytying forum), and the tip of the snell is also tacked in place on the mat with fine gold wire. The double loop of the gut was the way Mary Orvis Marbury looped the snelled flies for the 1893 Orvis Chicago Exposition Exhibit of 78 framed panels of flies and photographs, that is still on display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

9 comments on “Wet Fly Frame – Snelled Flies on Antique Hooks

  1. John Hoffmann says:

    Another beautiful example of your art Don.
    Have a Happy New Year too!
    Best regards, John

  2. What a wonderful piece of work. The photo looks fine, but can’t wait to see the closeup!

    Peter F.

  3. Erin Block says:

    Beautiful work, Don, I’m sure your customer will be delighted! I’m sure the pattern revisions, information gathering, and organizing is nothing short of a feat…but I’m very much looking forward to your book! All the best!

  4. Bruce says:

    Nice display, Don. Don’t you think that brook trout will start to stink pretty soon?

  5. This is solid Don! I really love it, and can’t wait for your book to drop.

  6. Dave Lomasney says:

    Gorgeous!!..I love the look with the vintage irons, and with the snells puts it over the TOP!…and two of my favorites are dead center!
    Beautiful Craftmanship Don!


  7. Bill says:


  8. David Mac says:

    I just made room in my bookcase for your book, there is also room on my wall ( hint, hint ).

    Absolutely beautiful work as usual 🙂

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