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…

18 comments on “Cornell Wet Fly

  1. Kelly Lovelady says:

    Don, I appreciate this blog so much. For one thing that fly is simply outstanding. The Cornell is a great looking fly. You more than did it justice, it is exemplary. I must say I just started using Pro Lak, and I LOVE IT. It takes a little bit of getting used to. I have always been a brush, not bodkin person, when applying head cement. As you say, to each his own. But I have noticed an improvement with it. I look forward to your flies, and your blog, ALWAYS. Thank you for sharing these little gems with your fans. I have always been a fan, and I don’t see that changing, ever.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Thank you for your continued devotion to my work and for your support. I truly appreciate it! I hope that what I do continues to inspire and motivate other tiers to derive more enjoyment from tying flies.
      On the use of a bodkin, I apply any cement I use in very small dabs; when I dip my bodkin into the cement I always watch the tip of the needle, either through the bottle opening, or through the glass side (can’t do that with black ProLak 🙂 ) and allow only a small amount to be picked up by the bodkin tip. I then use a process of “dabbing” the cement onto the head of the fly, working from one side to the other, and always using both hands together, touching in some way, if only with one finger, to help steady the bodkin hand during the application of the cement. At proper consistency, that is, self-leveling, the cement from start to finish should blend in well and not get stiff or start to set from where you first started to where you end up. Thanks again for your comment…Keep tying Kelly!

      • Kelly Lovelady says:

        Yes, I agree on what you said. I used the Pro Lak on Dave’s fly. I have shaky hands a lot, so I have to be extra careful. I must steady my hand similar to what you said, or I will mess the head up. (that has happened to me before) I know about how much to put on now, and even though I prefer a brush, I can use my bodkin. The brush is easier for me, because of my hand shake. Sometimes are worse than others of course. The Pro Lak gives such a black, shiny head, that it is worth it to me. I even used two coats of it on David’s fly, so that was taking a risk. Normally I use only one coat of black. I always use Griff’s Thin, usually two coats, then black, then clear. I prefer Griff’s Thick for the clear, but now they don’t sell it anymore either. Veniards clear is very good as well. I have not tried the Pro Lak clear. If you have thoughts on that, I’d like to hear it.

      • Don Bastian says:

        I have used clear ProLak, and it works well…or should I say, used to. I was informed by a shop owner when in Canada over the weekend of March 31 – April 1 for the Izaak Walton League 37th Annual Canadian Fly Fishing Forum that the formula for ProLak has been changed, and that “you won’t like it anymore.” I have finished off black heads with a coat of clear lacquer if I thought the head need a bit more “polish.” Thanks for your comments here Kelly!

      • Kelly Lovelady says:

        Oh no, they changed the formula? I hope they just changed the clear then. I love the black just the way it is.

      • Don Bastian says:

        I was told their whole line of cements is different…I bought a bottle of what I was told was the original formula, but there is definitely a different smell to it… 😦

      • Kelly Lovelady says:

        I wonder since I have not had mine very long, if it is the new, or the old formula. It does have a distinct odor to it, one you won’t miss. It is similar to Super Laq, but it is a much better head cement to me.

      • Don Bastian says:

        Hi there Kelly;
        Nice talking to you yesterday! Hey If I recall, you bought your ProLak from Peggy Brenner, her’s is the “good stuff.” :mrgreen:

      • Kelly Lovelady says:

        Oh cool Don, thank you for letting me know that. I feel better now. I was going to say, if this was the new stuff, the old stuff must of been outrageously good… 🙂

  2. Murray Buck says:

    Mr. Bastian,
    You are a famous tier and have been for a while. Please take this in the manner it is meant. There are always going to be whiners who think they know more than anyone else about everything. When some BOZO wants to call you out on something stupid, DON”T stoop to his level or even give him the dignity of a response. We, your loyal fans, would rather you spend your valuable time creating works of art and allow us to take out the trash. That being said ….please forward said buttheads name (or screen name) and the forum he contaminates to myself to “take out the trash”, if only by a scathing reply to his ignorance…. 😀

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Murray;
      I appreciate your comment and your candor in this matter. This stuff bothers me though, but I really should not let it do so. The worst part is that the root of this issue is a simple little misunderstanding that was further complicated by extenuating circumstances at the time. You are right, I ought not stoop as you say, to the low levels of any detractors, if even to righteously defend myself. With that thought in mind I have “edited out the trash” in this post and made it more positive as it should be. Thank you for your support! And thanks for your kind words…I will keep doing what I do…for the benefit of those that appreciate it. And I think everyone is better served by me not passing on the butthead’s identity. 😉

  3. Mark Wood says:

    Don, this is a gem of a fly. I’m curious about two things. 1) Do you ever tie wet flies with bead heads. I know the classics do not call for them but this looks like it might be a great fit. 2) How do you like the MFC hooks over the mustad signature series? Thanks for the great posts.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Mark;
      Thank you for your comments and compliments. To answer your question, I have never tied traditional wets with beads. To be honest, the shiny black heads I like to produce on my flies actually have the same effect in appearance as beads, they will reflect light and produce some flash, especially when the weather is sunny. Given the weight factor of beads; actually most anglers do not realize this but most beadhead flies will ride upside down in the water when fished. All scud type and “Czech” nymph hooks do that when weighted. Longer shank hooks dressed as stonefly imitations, ditto. Weighted Wooly Buggers, whether with wire only, beads, or coneheads, singly or in combination, ditto again. I have figured out how to weight the shank of longer hooks for stonefly nymphs to keep them right side up when fished; this involves bending the shank in a certain way. I have not tried beads on winged wets; there is a possibility that a quill wing would act as a keel to keep the fly upright, but I have my doubts.
      A bead placed on most hooks reverses the normal heavier weight of the bend and hook point on an unweighted hook that would drift point-down; considering the normal laws of physics and gravity, the added weight of the bead causes the hook to reverse and drift with the point up. That is not to say that a beadhead classic wet fly won’t catch fish…we can never figure them out…and when we do, it won’t be fun anymore. 😉
      Thanks for your kind words and enjoyment of my writing.

  4. John Hoffmann says:

    Hi Don,
    Wonderful flies, especially in the smaller, #16 and #18 sizes. I appreciate seeing how you’ve scaled the classic wets down to the smaller sizes which our finicky, educated browns seem to prefer. You continue to amaze me! Can’t wait to see a blog on the subject of the deadly 6 wet flies for spring browns. (Hint, hint)

    • Don Bastian says:

      OK, John;
      I’ll get to that piece on early season wet flies that you’ve been “bugging” me to do…
      Thanks so much for your comments…and this order was fun! A bit of a challenge, but I credit my years of commercial fly production and extensive wet fly tying for the last 15 years as a key factor in accomplishing this task. Thanks for your kind words and compliments!
      Cheers my friend!

  5. Armando Milosevic says:

    very beautiful flies and attempts to copy, continue forward greeting kindly teacher….Armando

  6. Bert Cornell says:

    Hello Don, Delighted to find the Cornell wet trout fly’s you tied they all look perfect, I have always used that pattern in my forty years of trout fishing in my home waters of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. I have found that any fly with black always works for me in rivers or lake’s and I sometime feel that they work better when used when they look tatty! I have enjoyed your site for some time and always recommend it to newcomers to the sport of Fly fishing.

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