Footer Special Fly Tying Class with David Footer as Guest of Honor

It has been advertised for about a month that I am teaching a classic streamer fly tying class at L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, on Friday September 21st. There is only one space left, but Bean’s is also accepting stand-by names in event of any cancellations.

L. L. Bean also conducts regular fly tying classes Friday evenings at 7:00 PM. Since I was already scheduled to be present at Bean’s that day, I offered to serve as guest instructor for the Friday evening tying class on September 21st. In March, during the weekend of the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo, I was invited to teach the class on March 16th. My suggestion to select a pattern different than the usual packaged fly pattern kits to the store manager was acceptable, as long as the pattern used materials in Bean’s regular fly tying stock. I chose the Footer Special, primarily since it is a pattern of  Maine origin, by taxidermist – artist David Footer. I thought the class would be relatively uneventful. I was wrong.

On the Friday afternoon of the Spring Fishing Expo, one of David Footer’s friends, Nick Sibilia, member of the Saco River Salmon Club, friend came by my display area and said, “I told Dave you were teaching his pattern tonight. He’s gonna try to come.” I was thrilled. I wouldn’t have given that a thought. I had met David for the first time at the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show in January of this year.

David lives in the nearby Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine. It turned out that David could not be present that evening, but he was well-represented at the class by his daughter Julie, who works with him, and another daughter and her husband, and additional family members, grand-children, and I think even one of David’s great-grand-children. Julie had prepared a text on the origin and history of the Footer Special. This turned out to be a fortuitous combination of L. L. Bean’s 100th Anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Footer Special streamer fly. The Footer Special was first published in the 1982 book, Trolling Flies for Trout and Salmon, by Dick Stewart and Bob Leeman.

It all came together very nicely that evening. The folks at Bean’s were delighted by the turnout. There were about 18 students in the class, and more spectators than students. It was the biggest attendance ever at Bean’s tying classes. It was a privilege to be involved in this.

I decided to again select the Footer Special for the class on September 21st. Once this was in motion, Ed Gauvin of the L. L. Bean Hunt / Fish Store and I decided to extend an invitation to David Footer to attend the class. I am delighted to announce that we have received confirmation from Julie Footer and David Footer. She and her father, and David’s wife, Annette, have graciously accepted the invitation and will be coming to the class on September 21st. Considering that we have more promotion time, it is anticipated that this evening will be even better than the previous Footer Special class.

David Footer has been an artist and taxidermist for over sixty years. He will be presenting his personal account of the Footer Special streamer pattern creation along with the big fish story that goes with it.

David Footer is one of the few remaining Maine personalities with direct links to the rich history and traditions of the Rangeley Lakes Region and the Golden Age of the Maine streamer fly. Julie Footer provided this information about her father: “He took the North Western School of Taxidermy correspondence course- and was licensed by the time he was 15, which was in 1946- that was also the year he first ever saw a Herb Welch mount: which was hanging at Bald Mountain Camps in the main Lodge. My father never knew who mounted that fish until years later (but the sight of it inspired him), and never met Herb Welch- to speak with about taxidermy until October of 1952 when he was 21 years old, and already had been a licensed taxidermist for six years.”

Herb Welch was a contemporary and friend of Carrie G. Stevens. Between Carrie Stevens’ Gray Ghost and Herb’s Black Ghost, they own the distinction of being the originators of the two most famous streamer patterns ever created. Herb Welch was recognized as the best taxidermist of his day. David Footer is linked to this history through personal experience.

Julie also included this information, “Under the direction of Master Taxidermist Herb Welch, David’s mentor, he honed his skills and became a master himself in the craft.” Here is a link to David’s About the Artist web page:

This Footer Special fly tying class with pattern originator David A. Footer as guest of honor will be held on the mezzanine at L. L. Bean, 7:00 PM. The class is free, anyone is welcome to attend. Materials will be provided. Tiers should plan your arrival ten to fifteen minutes early! Spectators are welcome!

I was priviliged to tie the Footer Special for the 2000 book, Forgotten Flies. It is also one of the patterns included in my 2007 DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails.

I am very excited about this! A special thank you to Julie Footer, for your assistance in providing accurate information of your father’s early years of taxidermy. Thank you all for your interest and support!

The Footer Special – created by David Footer in 1962.

Footer Special:

Hook: Any standard streamer hook, 6x to 10x long, size #1 to #8

Body: Flat gold tinsel

Belly: Sparse dark blue bucktail followed by 4 – 6 strands peacock herl

Underwing: Sparse red bucktail over which is sparse yellow bucktail

Wing: Two yellow hackles; some tiers use four hackles in the wing

Shoulders: Guinea fowl body feathers

Head: Black

There is a large flat-screen TV to provide a detailed, close-up view of the tying instructions to the class.

Fly Tying, Music, and Singing

Last week one day I followed through on a nagging desire that I’ve had for a year or so. A nagging desire will always remain as such unless it is acted upon. So acting on my nagging desire, one of them anyway, I impulsively moved my drum set, taking them one-by-one, from the stack in the basement where they’ve been stored for at least six years since I last played them. They sat sorely neglected four feet from my hot-water boiler. And beside the oil tank, which added further insult. I bought the set, used about 1978 for $200. It’s a Premier set with a nice natural wood finish, 22″ bass drum, with bass-mounted double tom-toms, 13″ and 14″. Any drummers reading this know what I mean. That’s the head diameter.

Playing the drums is very similar to riding a bike, in that once learned you don’t forget how. A drummer doesn’t lose their “lip” like trumpeter’s do, or embouchure as flautists might from musical inactivity. Once you got rhythm, you got it. At least I do. What a drummer does lose is the familiarity of the set, and the stamina to play actively for long periods of time. I plan to rectify that situation.

God bless the internet! In just five minutes of online research, I discovered that my set is a PD6500 Powerhouse, made in 1975, manufactured in England. Premier Percussion is still in business, serving the marching band, orchestra, and drum set needs of percussionists. That are celebrating their 90th Anniversary this year.

Even when I bought them they were in new condition, but I thought they still needed at least one more coat of varnish over the factory finish to really make them look good, so I used a couple coats of good old fashioned spar varnish on them. That was over thirty years ago. Spar varnish has long been a favored finish for use on boats because of its protective durability. I customized the set by adding a second 16″ x 16″ floor tom-tom, with a mismatched white pearl finish (music doesn’t care), and a couple more cymbals. And two cowbells. After I moved the drums into an adjacent bedroom, leaving intact for the time being, the unwelcome decorative mouse turds on the bass drum head, I opened the hardware case.

I am a baby-boomer, and like my father and mother, I have tendencies to not want to waste anything of value. This characteristic occasionally surfaces even if the actual value of a particular item may be in question. My drum hardware carrying container, was of course, not a nice, heavy-duty affair with reinforced corners like one would see backstage at a ZZ Top or Foreigner Concert, but rather an old funeral director’s – undertaker’s casket stand case. I resurrected it with my father’s blessing from my grandfather’s store of items no longer used, but of course, not discarded, that were situated in the Beck Funeral Home in Liberty, Pennsylvania. My dad, uncle Bill, and uncle Harry operated the business there, even though the Pennsylvania State Funeral Director’s license holder was Harry Beck, my grandfather’s brother-in-law. My grandfather passed in 1946. Uncle Bill died in 1965 and my father Donald R. Bastian, operated the Liberty and Williamsport Funeral Homes until his death in 1977. All the stands and cymbals fit in that case, so it served me well.

I have a musical background, starting with church choirs when I was still a kid. My dad played the mandolin and accordion. Prior to fifth grade, apparently after passing some type of music aptitude test, I was enrolled in drum lessons at school. All during junior and senior high school I was in marching and concert band. In high school we even had a percussion ensemble during my senior year. I was the first kid to ever play the multiple drums in marching band. These are in just about every marching band percussion section nowadays; called timbales, or sometimes tymp-toms. The music budget of the Williamsport High School Band back then didn’t provide for purchase of a set of timbales, so the drum section coach, Bob Morrison, who was a percussion major and also happened to be the band director at one of the three junior high schools in Williamsport, Pennsylvania back then, made a set. He made them from old drums, cutting them in half. The high school colors are red and white, so he used red sparkle pearl to cover them. Chrome hardware. The connecting hardware and the carrying strap was also home-made. Jury-rigged was more like it. An authentic, Americana, Rube Goldberg device would be a more appropriate description.

I was chosen to play these, since I was the one drummer out of six in the drum section who played with the hand strength the drum coach felt necessary to carry the instrument. Not carry the physical weight of the drums, he meant that “I played loud.” Forcefully. With gusto. The other drummers were sort of, wusses, I guess. Not their person, their playing. No disrespect intended, so I got the job. A heavy hand must have been an inherent characteristic to me. In elementary school, I wrote hard too. I still do. I remember breaking the pencil lead occasionally, and always wore it down fast; having to visit the pencil sharpener on the windowsill more than any other kid in my class.

Band camp that first year was a continual effort on my part. Would you believe that I still remember verbatim, and can rattle it off like it was just yesterday, my sophomore band initiation speech? That was the easy part. We had to memorize the dumb thing and recite it for all the upperclassmen and get their signatures. My sister’s signature was the last one. She was a senior, and I figured I’d start with her. It would be a matter of course to get her to sign my paper. Nope. She told me I would have to sing my speech to the tune of Yankee Doodle, while balanced on a metal railing, before the entire band, as they were assembled on the marching field. Apparently she had an “in” with the director. All week in my mind, I’m rehearsing the speech, singing it, going over the whole thing in my mind. I put it off like you would put off having a tooth extracted, but on the last evening of band camp I finally yielded and gave my performance. I dare say I was the only freshman band member who got an applause for their initiation speech. And I also still know the definitions of the all words therein that we had to learn: nihilism, obscure, cognominated, subservient, inosculate, insatiable, collusion, preeminent, solicitude, panacea. There, if you have nothing better to do today, get out your dictionary.

Besides the forced marching – morning, afternoon, and evening, learning the marching band routines in the August heat and humidity, when college dorm rooms at the time had only open windows for ventilation, the tymp-toms and the Rube Goldberg carrying strap, as Bob called them, were constantly in need of “adjustment.” We eventually got them “well-rigged,” despite the fact duct tape had not yet been invented in 1969, and it ended up being pretty cool though. At footballs games, I was like, carrying my own drum set.

Fly tying? I’m gettin’ there. By the time of my senior year I already had six years of fly tying experience behind me, such as it was.

Presently in the project of my drum set revival, which involves complete cleaning of everything, cleaning and polishing the hardware, stands, cymbals, and drum heads, most of which is done, I am slightly thwarted by the absence of my snare drum and stand. But I’m pretty sure they are in my attic which has a lot of stuff in it, and when I find that I’m setting them up. I’m going to start playing again. And I’ll be able to play whenever I feel like it. Nice! Stress relief, cardio-vascular exercise, and personal relaxation, fulfillment, and enjoyment all rolled into one. I live in the country, so no neighbors will complain. I have one good pair of sticks, and also a pair of brushes and multi-rods. When I started drum lessons, sticks were $.80 cents a pair. I know I’m in for sticker shock when I go to buy a few extra pairs.

I also have some vocal talent. Even though I was only ever in the junior high school choir, I ended up playing the drums in a rock band too, starting in my ninth grade year. My brother Larry played the guitar. That’s when I first heard Jimi Henrix Are you Experienced? Man I loved that music. Larry’s science teacher, Mr. Levering, actually brought the Hendrix album to school and played it in his class. Purple Haze, Fire, Foxy Lady, I was hooked. Then Led Zeppelin’s first album, with Good Times Bad Times. More great music. By the mid-seventies I was an addicted audiophile, with a four-channel Marantz receiver, which I still have and is actually playing right now as a matter of fact. My album collection was eclectic even then; Procol Harum, The Moody Blues, Bloodrock, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, The James Gang, Yes, Chicago, Cactus, Foghat, Leslie West, Aerosmith, Supertramp, Styx, Tull, Black Sabbath, oh yeah, War Pigs, Iron Man, Rat Salad. I love trivia, but I think I’m in a very small collection of folks that can actually name the original five members of Deep Purple and even their now-defunct record label. No fair looking it up people! Anal? Do I actually try to remember this stuff? No. It happens. Through nothing that I devote any effort to.

It’s weird what you remember. Of course I can still remember where I was when I heard the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the shooting of President Reagan, the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle accidents, and of course 9-11. I also remember where I was and even what day of the week it was when I heard on the car radio that Jimi Hendrix was dead.

It was a bit of sad news to read that Jon Lord, the keyboard player of Deep Purple, passed away from pancreatic cancer, less than one month ago. The same affliction took the life of my dear wife, Lou Anne, five years ago.

My band was the first in the area to blast out Smoke on the Water. Our keyboard player even had a Hammond B-3 organ. Already a Deep Purple fan with all four of their previous albums, I bought Machine Head in 1972 upon release, a full year before Smoke on the Water was released as a single. My band was playing that song already, and one night the keyboard player walked in to practice and announced, “Hey guys, I just heard Smoke on the Water on the radio. Again, thank God for the internet. Smoke on the Water was not expected by the band to be a hit, but it reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop list and propelled Deep Purple to prominence, more so than their 1968 hit Hush from their first LP, Shades of Deep Purple.

I happen to love trivia, in particular, human interest trivia. Fly tying trivia. Historical trivia. Chance meeting / situational / destiny / artist / inventor / painter / singer / writer / person-becomes-famous-despite-all-odds-and-critics-who-say-otherwise, or success of the most unlikely and unexpected item, song, book, etc. Here’s the kind of trivia I like:  If you prefer not to take time to read the Wikipedia link then at least read this:

“On the Classic Albums series episode about Machine Head, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple’s lead guitarist) claimed that friends of the band were not a fan of the classic Smoke on the Water riff, because they thought it was too simplistic. Blackmore retaliated by making comparisons to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony’s First Movement, which revolves around a similar four note arrangement—and is arguably the most famous piece of music in the world.”

And this:

“During Ian Gillan’s stint with Black Sabbath in 1983, they performed Smoke on the Water as a regular repertoire number on encores during their only tour together. It remains one of the few cover songs that Black Sabbath has ever played live.”

A close personal friend of mine, Jack Tokach from Maryland, has two sons, one named Mark Tokach. Mark’s present position is lead guitarist and musical director for the Charlie Robinson Band. Charlie was married to Emily Robinson, formerly of the Dixie Chicks (she was the blonde). Ha, ha! Gotcha! Need more information? The blonde who also played the dobro. Mark is a very talented, world class guitarist, and at one time played in a band locally known in Maryland, Boneglove, whose Black Sabbath cover set was always a fan favorite. Jack is understandably proud of Mark. Mark was discovered by scouts at a college performance of the musical, Hair. He was signed on the spot for a reunion tour of The Box Tops. His first real gig was at the Indiana State Fair in front of 12,000 people. Mark was also one of two finalists brought for interviews and auditions a number of years ago for Ozzy Osbourne’s band. For those of you who don’t know, “Ozzy” was the lead-singer for Black Sabbath. And the TV show, The Osbournes, remember that? Wasn’t that one of the first-reality shows? And all the bleeps? Anyway, Mark Tokach is very talented on the guitar. A virtuoso.

Fly tying, singing…almost there. I still love classic rock, but I can also be found listening to The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, The Chordettes, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, The Platters, Marty Robbins, even the hokey style of songs like A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation appeals to me. Last week I was listening to a 3-CD set of “Love Songs of the Fifties.” Yeah, more hokey music, but it’s great. I made a CD copy of “The Best Of,” selecting the titles from the three CD’s; one for myself and my friend / fellow fly tier, Truman. One more little trivia bit and I’m done. One of the songs on it is On the Street Where You Live, from My Fair Lady, by Vic Damone. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart and was No. 1 in the UK. Born to Italian-French ancestry in Brooklyn. He took singing lessons as a kid. When his father, who worked as an electrician, was injured, Vic quit school to go to work (how many kids do that these days in our era of ever-burgeoning government entitlement programs that keep people on their butts except to cash their check?). Vic took a job as an usher and elevator operator at The Paramount Theater in New York. One day when Perry Como was at the Paramount, he boarded the elevator, and Vic stopped it between floors and sang for Mr. Como. He then asked his advice if he should continue his voice lessons. Perry said,”Keep singing!” and referred him to a local bandleader. The rest is history; Vic’s rendition of You’re Breaking my Heart was No. 1 in 1949, and he had more than 40 songs charted until 1965.

Perry Como was from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which I also recently discovered is also the hometown of The Four Lads, whose version of Shangri-La reached #11 in 1957. Another great song, great vocals, orchestration, and harmony.

I used to sing lead in a few songs with the rock band I was in. I sang for 27 years in a gospel quartet with my wife, including solo work in our repertoire. It might not seem like my early music tastes and gospel music go together, but as noted previously my musical interests are pretty diverse. I did some theater acting too; as “Sandy” in Brigadoon (yeah I wore a kilt), and “Dolan” in the stage version of “Mr. Roberts.” My vocal range and sound is similar to Vic Damone’s, being a baritone, closer to his voice than to Frank Sinatra. I recently wrote on a blog post that, “tying a Carrie Stevens fly pattern is sort of the musician’s version of doing a Frank Sinatra song in a karaoke bar. Hey, I’m just sayin’. I don’t want to compare my talent to someone who can’t sing. If I were to sing, and had the chance, I think I could present a decent rendition of “On the Street Where You live.” My voice is closer still to Toby Keith. I could Karaoke I Wanna Talk About Me, or As Good Once as I Once Was. With little effort I could mimic and almost dead-on vocalization of Warren Zevon. Werewolves of London, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, and Accidentally Like a Martyr. A line from that last song fits the situation of my failed second marriage: “Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly for what was already mine.” Warren Zevon’s information on Wikipedia is more fascinating stuff.

I absolutely detest rap, grunge, nu-metal, and any crap that possesses angst-laden, degrading to women, and excessive use of foul language. Back in 1999, on my first day of part-time work as an office furniture installer, I filled in during the summer when one of the regular installers had broken his collarbone playing Frisbee. The company was working on a big job in the football office at Penn State University. We rode to work in a large ten-passenger van, and one of the young part-timers brought with him a cassette of the band Korn. All young kids. I was the older guy. Let me tell you. I’m normally a dignified sort, not overbearing, don’t take advantage of people, and usually a gentleman, except perhaps when in the company of my red-neck friends. (References available, ask around. Just don’t ask my ex-girlfriend where only a negative biased opinion would be forthcoming). But my dear departed wife, Lou Anne, was the receptionist and personal assistant to the CEO at this company. That’s how I got the part-time gig, which dovetailed with my slower, summer fly tying and guiding business. When I walked in and stood at her desk after work that day, she looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong?” I hadn’t spoken a word, but she knew that something was dreadfully wrong. I told her, literally shaking and trembling with emotion as I did so.

On that day I didn’t stand up for myself, since it was my first day on the job and all. I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Some of the lyrics to the noise (definitely not music) on the Korn cassette used the F-bomb. So did Billy Joel. So did James Taylor. Once. I’ll say they did it tactfully, even artistically. Inoffensively. In context. This band of miscreants over-used it. One song must have had it over 100 times, with screaming and vocally-raked utterances that sounded as if the front man had gargled a pack of razor blades. It really sucked.

I can tell you from personal experience that people who say music cannot incite people to commit violence are wrong. I was just about ready to kill someone that day. Or at least I felt that way. After a discussion with the crew chief, I handled it the next day. He told me, “You have age-seniority on the crew. Do what you think is best.” My plan was premeditated.

As we rode to State College again the next day, the same guy got a cassette out of his shirt pocket. I said, “Let me see that for a second.” Another Korn cassette. Not today. Seventy miles an hour on PA. Rt. 220, nearing Jersey Shore, I heaved it right out the open window. Despite the fact that littering is one of my pet peeves. “We’re not listenin’ to that f*****  s*** today, boys. Or any other day when I’m around. Is that clear?”

Even with the windows open and the road noise, you could have heard a pin drop. I pulled a $5 bill from my wallet, handed it to the kid, and said, “Here, that was worth five bucks to me. I’ll buy your lunch.” As a temp through an employment agency, he never was called to work there again. I saw to that by speaking to ‘the lady in charge.’ That would be my wife. You never know when you’re going to get to have the last word. Which can be nice, because that can also include having the last laugh.

Besides the drum set revival, I am also going to start singing again. Somewhere, somehow. Maybe I might join the Williamsport Civic Chorus. Now, this is what you’ve been reading and waiting for; the fly tying, singing, music connection:

I had to say all that to say this: One of the first things I’m going to do is learn, since I already know it and have known it for 25 years, but more diligently, to the point of walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time level of complete automatic memory, the song, The Scotsman. My plan is to practice and learn it well enough so that I can “entertain” by singing this song, a ditty about what a Scotsman wears (or doesn’t wear) under his kilt, while simultaneously tying a traditional Scottish soft-hackle fly such as the Waterhen Bloa, Orange Partridge Spider, or March Brown Spider. The song takes about 00:02:25, so I think it can be done, tying one of those patterns with just two or three ingredients in the allotted time, particularly if I set the stage by practicing the song until it becomes rote, and prepping my materials in advance.

I know this is very different from my usual offerings but I hope you found this somewhat interesting – and entertaining – besides what is contained in just the first and last paragraphs. In the meantime I’ll be practicing.

Wet Fly Wings

Yesterday’s post, the Professor, was also posted on LinkedIn. A fellow there made a comment and posed a question this morning, so in my reply, which went on more like a paragraph than a sentence or two, ended up being expanded into a whole separate post in itself. Here it is. I talk more about wet fly wings; tradition, evolution, and personal preference.

Here is “Ian’s” question:

I was interested in noting your comments on tip up and tip down wings on wet flies.
I have a copy of A Dictionary of Trout Flies and of Flies for Sea-Trout and Grayling, by A. Courtney Williams, 1973 edition. This is an updated edition, the original being published in 1949.
In the colour plates most of the wet flies appear to be tied with tip down wings. As a young fly fisher in the late 60’s and early 70’s everyone I knew tied conventional wet flies with the wing tip down.
The only exception to this as far as I am aware was winged North Country wet flies (most were tied hackled) which had wings tied in the style of a very slim dry fly. This was also the case with Clyde style wet flies.
Out of interest, North Country, Clyde, and Tummel style flies were intended for fishing upstream or up and across. Fished any other way they would just appear as a blob.
Anyway, in my simple view when fishing down and across wet fly tip down wings will tend to hug the back of the fly and appear more streamlined, much like the natural nymph that they are thought to represent.
Thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Here is my reply, with quite a bit more text and info added than what I wrote on LinkedIn:

Hi Ian;
Thank you for your comment! I do not have the book you refer to. However I do have a book by T. Donald Overfield, who wrote a forward in the new edition of the book you referenced.

The discussion of wet fly wing attitude seems to be perennial. As I noted in my blog post, Marbury’s and her father’s book, Charles Orvis, both 19th century books, illustrate the flies with wing tips down. Ray Bergman’s book Trout has the patterns, 440 in all, shown with tip up. Beyond that topic, there is the discussion of concave versus convex side in or out. Much can be said on this, I’ll try to be brief.
Dave Hughes, American author with more fishing and tying titles to his credit than any author in the world, in his book, Wet Flies, states his preference for tip down, while acknowledging most (American) wet flies were tied with tip up. Pennsylvania author George Harvey also favored tip down. Not so in the 1800’s. Somewhere along the line this changed. I wrote in Hatches Magazine print edition, 2010 issue, of 4 ways to set wet fly wings. Tip up or tip down; and concave side either in or out. Some may think this heresy; but the reality is the fishermen care far more about the attitude of wet fly wings than do the fish.

Ray Bergman’s Trout was published in England in 1950. J. Edson Leonard, his book, Flies 1950, shows a photographed plate of sea-trout flies by Gabriel-Ray, (which means nothing to me); they all have the tips up. They all sound like English patterns; (not taking time to research them): Woodcock & Orange, Peter Ross (which is the English version as I am familiar with the American Peter Ross, soft-hackle, a different pattern), Butcher, Mallard and Claret, Cinnamon and Gold, etc.
I personally prefer using the best side of the feathers facing out, as all salmon fly tiers do. The flies look better that way. The colors on the top side of the feathers are bolder, more vibrant on the top, dull side, which with a satin finish, absorbs light and reflects the color most accurately. The bottom, dull, shiny, smooth side, reflects light, sometimes giving off a glare, and often the true color of the feather barbs is muted. Depending on the feather; turkey, duck, goose, guinea fowl; and whether the wing is made from wing quills, flank feathers, or goose shoulder, tying top side out exclusively will yield either a Closed Wing or Divide Wing. The Closed Wing is generally recognized as the most popular method. Examples of fly patterns with top side of the feather section facing out and provide Closed Wings are: the Professor, Montreal, Governor, Turkey Brown, or Victoria, and Alder. Examples of Divided Wing, patterns, when tied with top side facing out are any pattern calling for wing quill slips of duck, goose, guinea fowl, chicken, and also wings made from the trailing side of brown mottled turkey secondary quills, (Commonly known to fly tiers as Oak Mottled Turkey).

J. Edson Leonard’s favorite wet fly wing style is the Divided Wing. He writes, the Divided Wing will open and close in the water when action is imparted, providing more action when fished. I agree, but I also tie a lot of presentation, collector, and framed flies. The top side of the feather, regardless of curvature, relative to it’s location on the bird, is always the best looking side, so I generally face that side out on my flies, unless I am interested in historic replication of a pattern and style.

Historically, as I’m now researching the Orvis / Marbury flies of the 1800’s and have inspected several hundred specimens of them, including the original plate flies from her book, most of them were tied tip down, concave side in.
For example, a number of current wet fly tiers have used goose shoulder for wet flies, particularly, on married wing patterns. There is technically nothing wrong with that, but it is not historically accurate. I have stated before, I see no need to use feather barbs long enough for a 5/0 salmon fly on a size #8 trout hook, in tying say, the Colonel Fuller, Split ibis, or Kineo. However, one truth my students always hear from the pulpit of my wet fly wing preaching; “Tying married wing wet flies is all about maintaining uniformity of feather texture.” I’ve said that so many times over the years, it’s committed to memory. This is the exact wording of the sentence. It’s like a broken record. If tying a trout patterns such as the Lake Edward, Silver Doctor, Ferguson, Munro, which all have brown mottled turkey in the wings, then to “maintain uniformity of feather texture” one needs to match the turkey sections with goose shoulder, this matches both texture and curvature of the barbs. Turkey and goose shoulder barbs will marry nicely, and not want to cause trouble by filing for an annulment or an on-the-spot divorce.

Here is a link to an older post on my blog with information on wet fly wings, and a photo from my 2010 Hatches Magazine article, “Traditional Wet Flies,” illustrating the four different styles. All are acceptable to me.

See also, “Married Wings for Morons.” You can type that in the search tab, and just hit enter. Sorry, that is faster than me taking time to find it. 🙂


I tied a Professor wet fly for a customer this week; he wanted to add it to his fly collection. I took a couple photos of the fly before mailing it. Back in 2006, I wrote an article in Eastern Fly Fishing Magazine on the Professor, including information on the pattern history. The Professor was created in Scotland in 1820, and according to Mary Orvis Marbury’s book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, was named for Professor John Wilson, who was also known as Christopher North. Perhaps that was a pen-name. John’s brother, the naturalist, James Wilson, and John are also credited with the creation of the Queen of the Waters.

The Professor went on to secure a place in American fly fishing history, became more popular in America than its country of origin, and is one of a few patterns that was made into just about every other style of fishing fly except for a nymph. Though it would probably be a good fly if the Professor was “nymphed.” A Professor nymph would be similar to the Tellico, though perhaps with the wing case like a Zug-Bug. I can vouch for the effectiveness of both the Tellico Nymph and Zug Bug.

The Professor was traditionally made as a trout wet fly, but it also because popular as a large lake fly, a dry fly, fan-wing dry fly, streamer, and hairwing steelhead pattern.

Professor wet fly, size #6. This wing was tied on in the older style of the 1800’s, at least with regard to the tip and shape of the barb sections. By the 1900’s the popular style among most commercial fly companies was to elevate the tip of the wing quill or flank feather sections to the top side, with the tip pointing up. Dr. Edgar Burke’s wet fly paintings in Ray Bergman’s Trout, Just Fishing, 1932,and With Fly, Plug, and Bait, 1947, are all representative of tip-up wet fly winging. My research over the last eight months on the 1800’s Orvis flies has shown the turned-down tip to be the popular winging style of that time period. In fact the original flies from Marbury’s book, and the flies in the 1893 Orvis display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, all exhibit the tip down wing. I’m getting more interested in this because of its historical significance, and maybe I’m even liking it more. It’s not always completely true that people are set in their ways, or that they can’t learn to appreciate different things. This style of winging makes the flies look more “retro,” to use a modern term. Classic, traditional, or historic representations of our heritage wet fly patterns would be a more fitting description.


Hook: Standard wet fly hook, size #1 to #12

Thread: Danville #1 White Flymaster for body; #100 Black for head.

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Tail: Scarlet quill section(s); scarlet ibis was traditionally used for tailing

Ribbing: Flat (oval on 1800’s Orvis patterns) gold tinsel

Body: Yellow floss

Hackle: Brown

Wing: Gray mallard

Head: Black

Fishing With the Fly, 1883, coauthored by Charles F. Orvis and A. Nelson Cheney, lists the Professor as pattern No. 11 on one of the color plates as a Lake Fly Pattern. Lake Flies were traditionally dressed on larger hooks, for brook trout and land locked salmon, that is why I listed hook size above as large as size #1. The Professor Lake Fly dressing is identical to this recipe but also has white slips married into the tail, underneath the scarlet ibis.

Pennsylvania author James “Jim” Bashline, indicates the Professor is a good fly in sizes #2, #4, and #6 in his book, Night Fishing forTrout. I can also vouch for the effectiveness of the Professor as a large night fly. And it just hit me, there really isn’t that much difference between “night flies” and the old “lake flies.” With the exception that night flies were dressed with a focus on brown trout, which according to scientific research on their optic system, have better night vision that other species of the trout family. Brown trout were still living in Europe and the British Isles when American Lake Flies were originated.

My research for the last nine months on the 1800’s Orvis flies, including actual visual inspection of Marbury’s book flies and her 1893 display, (lucky me), indicates most all of the tags on those flies were flat tinsel, and the ribbing was most often oval.

On this wing I used two large, select gray mallard flank feathers, a matched pair forming a left and a right wing using the same method as when cutting equal-width slips when using a matched pair of wing quills. The historic patterns, and all that I have seen size #6 and larger, used tips of whole feathers to make the wings. These were placed bottom, concave sides facing together. Whole feather wings would be especially true on the Lake Flies. The Professor’s companion pattern, the Grizzly King, was also made as a Lake Fly.

The hackle was tied in at the clipped butt section, wound three times, then the barbs were folded down, divided, and wrapped over a few times with tying thread to secure it.

Professor wet fly, mounted and labeled, to be packaged in clear plastic, business card size box, with a separate signature card included. This year I upgraded my packaging of Collector’s Flies. It takes a little more work, but the flies look better. Enhanced appearance makes almost everything look better. I used to insert the hook point into a small square of foam. Now I carefully wire the hook at the eye and bend, and I am also using another section of card stock in back. My display flies are now all double-sided with card stock backing, using acid-free cement.

My plan for the Arts of the Angler Show at the Ethan Allen Inn, Danbury, Connecticut, on November 10 and 11; and The International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey, November 17  and 18 is to have a big inventory of a wide range of Collector’s Edition wet fly styles in stock. More than usual. At least that’s my plan.

Along with 20th century wet flies, representative of the dressings and patterns in Ray Bergman’s books, I also hope to include new (for me) patterns from Helen Shaw’s book, Flies for Fish and Fishermen: The Wet Flies, 1989; J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies, and H. J. Noll’s Guide to Trout Flies and How to Tie Them, 1965. I have been using these resources for some years already, but there are new patterns that I want to include. There is a wealth of additional wet fly patterns in these sources that I have not previously tapped. I also will be presenting many more of the 18th century Lake and Bass Fly patterns, including some previously unpublished patterns I have discovered that are presently unknown. I’ll be including at least thirty previously unpublished 19th century trout and lake flies to my current book, The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury.

The flies I recently posted in The Fly Young Knight were dressed in the tip-down style of wings.

Handling and Releasing Fish – and Photographs

This is about a pet-peeve of mine. I am talking about the proper handling of trout and other fish we catch and release. The pet-peeve part concerns the mistreatment of fish we catch, specifically how fish are handled when in our care, especially if photos are taken.

If you are killing some fish to eat, which I have no problem with once in a while, then I care not how fish are handled. I was raised hunting so I have no hesitation to allow my ancestral killer-mammal, predator instincts to rise to the fore of my immediate behavior when the need arises. If fish are to be killed they should be dispatched quickly. Here is a quote from Ray Bergman that I discovered in my research back in 1998, it is published in his biography that I wrote for Forgotten Flies, 2000. This quotation was written in pencil by Ray on the back of a 1940’s photograph: “If a trout is to be kept, it should be killed at once. Don’t leave it struggle and suffocate in the creel.”

About sixteen years ago, I spent an afternoon fishing with one of the foremost fly fishing photographers in the business. When I caught a particularly nice brown, he wanted photos, which I am fine with. But after about eight seconds with me holding the fish up above the surface of the water for him to photograph – he shot at least a half dozen, this was pre-digital, so you couldn’t preview the images, but he did have an automatic film advance, I was ready to get the trout back in the water. When I felt it was time release the fish, or get it back into the water for a few seconds prior to another “short” photo session, I said so, but he kept saying one more, one more; click, click, click. I have to say I got a little peeved. I probably had that fish out of the water for 15 – 20 seconds, which might not seem that long to us, but to a trout that has just exerted itself as it was played in – keeping a fish out of the water for longer than a few intervals for photos, which should last no more than three to five seconds, is the equivalent of you running the hundred-yard dash and then having someone forcibly hold your head in a bucket of water. You want to catch your breath but you can’t. The same thing is true with fish out of water.

One of the worst: Last May on Maine’s Magalloway River, I watched a young guy, thirty-something and old enough to know better, hook, play, and net a landlocked salmon about seventeen inches in length. Another pet peeve; unless you intend to kill every fish you catch, then your hooks should all be barbless. Topic for another discussion. This guy had trouble removing the hook, which was obviously barbed. After he held the fish waist-high out of the water in his net, for longer than twenty seconds, I got a little concerned. I touched the stopwatch button on my wristwatch. I watched as he wrestled and wiggled his wrist and forearm for what seemed like an eternity, grasping the fish with both hands, which turned out to be an eternity for the fish, lasting another two minutes and fifteen seconds. During this time, I’m figuring if he keeps the salmon, no worries. But considering the possibility he may also release it, I was simultaneously beginning to get a little ticked off. I did start talking to myself, but in the end I said nothing. I should have, at least mentioned the reality of barbless hooks eliminating that kind of personal fish vs. man struggle. I know that fish eventually became raccoon, mink, otter, or snapping turtle bait. Two-and-a-half minutes out of the water; there is no way that salmon survived. Fortunately for the angler, I am not one to insert myself into a situation where some might say, I have no business. But whenever I see people or photos of people inappropriately handling and consequently abusing fish they have caught and intend to release, it is my business. It becomes the business of every angler to see that other anglers respect the fish that are caught. You can kill a fish to eat and still respect it. If you improperly handle a fish that you release and it dies because your improper care, it is disrespectful. Too many anglers place their personal gratification on a priority level above the well-being of their quarry.

If you caught a fish that is bleeding, if it is legal to kill it, do so. Don’t just cross your fingers and release it, hoping it will survive, because it won’t. But then again, it’s a lucky day for a raccoon or great blue heron or a bald eagle that finds a freshly-dead fish.

Education of proper fish handling methods is maintained through written and photographic publication that demonstrates, encourages, and promotes the respectful and correct handling of fish.

Here are a few tips:

1) Play and land fish as quickly as possible.

2) Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Revive if necessary. If you followed No. 1 correctly then revival won’t be necessary for longer than a few seconds.

3) De-barb all your hooks. Makes hook removal much easier.

4) Use the Ketchum Release tool. Many times the fish won’t even have to be netted or touched when using this tool. I once thought it was just another tackle-gadget-gimmick until I tried one.

5) If taking photos, refer to No. 2 as priority No. 1.

6) Keep your fingers out of their gills.

7) Don’t squeeze the fish.

8) Don’t hold them up by the jaw. Gravity to a fish out of water is a lot different than what they are used to.

9) Get over the need to have to land every fish you hook. Unless you are killing them, or want a photo of a particularly nice fish, remember the number of hook ups you achieve is the real measure of how well you are doing, and how actively the fish are feeding. I’m releasing them anyway, if I hook a trout, play it a while, it jumps so I can see it, etc. and then gets off, I’m happy. An LDR – or Long-distance Release, saves the angler from what at times is a procedure where your hands get wet, cold, and slimy. If you are not in a fishing competition where a touch-release is required to score the fish, then fish-to-hand isn’t really all that important. We love to fish, but fishing should have more focus on the fish than on our ego.