Cornell Wet Fly

The Cornell is an unknown wet fly pattern that is listed in Ray Bergman’s Trout. It is also in J. Edson Leonard’s book, Flies. Both dressings are identical. I checked Marbury’s Favorite Flies… but it is not there. The Cornell is identical to the Black Prince, with the exception that the “Prince” has a red tail and gold tag. The Black Prince is a pattern I fished often and caught lots of trout with in local Pennsylvania streams in my younger days, going back even before I was old enough to drive.

I had a customer in California contact me a couple months ago about tying an order of the Cornell in various sizes for her to fish with. She wrote of being inspired by her father, who had a long-standing interest in Ray Bergman’s books and his regular Outdoor Life column that he penned as Angling Editor of that publication from 1934 until 1959.  My customer’s reasoning to order four dozen Cornell’s was that Ray strongly suggested in his writings that wet fly anglers should have a basic black wet fly pattern in their arsenal of fishing flies. I agree. Lots of the bugs in a trout’s stomach are often just “black stuff” – such as ants, crickets, beetles, midges. As a boy, every time my brother Larry, and I fished with my dad we always cut open the trout’s stomachs to see what they’d been eating. That was dad’s advice.

Cornell Wet Flies tied by Don Bastian, sizes #12, #14, #16, & #18.

To complete my customer’s order I tied one dozen in each of these sizes; #12, #14, #16, and #18. To be honest I previously tied few if any, winged wet flies smaller than size #14 in my entire tying career. But tying small- sized wet flies is just a matter of scaling down the regular components. I wanted to keep the pattern uniformity consistent, and I knew from previous experience that the smallest size of flat tinsel or Mylar tinsel would be too wide on even the #14. So I opted to use two different sizes of oval gold tinsel for the ribbing; small and very small sizes. As you can see the fine oval tinsel allowed me to maintain the consistency of five wraps of ribbing on all hook sizes. The hooks I used are Montana Fly Company 7076 – 1x long nymph hooks. (Initially I posted this hook as the 7026, a 2xl heavy wire nymph hook. So much for writing from memory…) There are three coats of head cement on each fly, the last being Black Pro Lak, which I prefer using to keep the head color nice and black, not grayish or milky as often occurs with clear head cements.

Regarding my use of black head cement, I have been using Black ProLak for about 18 years. There are other brands of black head cement / lacquer on the market, but I stand by my experience of using ProLak for an extended period of time. Like many cements that fly tiers use, if ProLak is thinned at the correct, self-leveling consistency, not too thin, and applied carefully with a small bodkin under good light, it works very well, won’t smudge into the wings and hackle unless you have an unexpected and involuntary “hand-twitch,” and I have always been very satisfied with it. I have applied Black ProLak cement to the heads of at least 6,000 flies; the actual number is probably higher than that.

I have been asked at shows why I use only one coat of Black ProLak. The answer is, besides needing only one coat, I say, “It’s too dangerous.” But I have only ever ruined to the relegation of “the fishing box” a handful of flies in the last 20 years. I have also had a few flies that were less than the best I am capable of producing, for whatever reason at the time of tying. No matter what your hobby or profession, one occasionally has a day when things don’t go quite right.

Size #16 Cornell wet flies.

Here is the recipe:


Thread: Uni-Thread Black 8/0 (I am currently out of my favorite Danville Flymaster 6/0).

Tail: Black duck quill sections (only one barb each, doubled from matched pairs on the #18’s).

Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel

Body: Black floss

Hackle: Black, tied as a false hackle or beard.

Wing: Black duck quill sections.

Head: Black

I mailed the flies last week. Here is what my customer had to say: “The Cornells arrived Friday and I must say they are absolutely beautiful!!  I am actually wondering if I should use them.  Your packaging, by the way, is reminiscent of the very early japanned cardboard Richard Wheatley fly box.”

Of course I told her to “fish with them, that’s what they are for.” Below is a cropped macro image:

Cornell wet flies, one dozen, #16. Tied by Don Bastian as part of a custom order.

In the not-too-distant future I will be setting up a custom-order page on The Cornell and many other traditional wet fly, streamer, and dry fly patterns can eventually be ordered there. Thanks for your interest in my work. I hope everyone has a good fishing season! I am excitedly looking forward to the official Opening Day of Trout Season on Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek near Bellefonte with friends.

Some photos and fish tales may be in order…