Owner – 19th Century Bass Fly

Owner Bass Fly.

Owner Bass Fly. This fly was also known as the Red Guinea. It is card-mounted as I sell these flies at shows and events. The hook is a Gaelic Supreme 2/0.

The Owner was originated in 1885 by Mr. J. S. Owner, of Hagerstown, Maryland. He was a close friend of E. D. Bowly, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As one of the correspondents to Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury, Mr. Bowly writes of success with the Owner on the Potomac River. The Owner was also known as the Red Guinea. Mr. Bowly did personal research on the Potomac related to water conditions. He wrote of lying on his back in three to four feet of water, studying the body colors of various artificial flies as they drifted past relative to the murkiness of the water. One of Mr. Bowly’s favorites was a Queen of the Waters, with a yellow body, tied on a size 1 hook. This was a version he created for smallmouth bass. He wrote of one occasion fishing a Queen of the Waters on the point, with an Owner as a stretcher, and taking sixteen smallmouth bass in the Potomac on eight casts, though the casts were not consecutive.

Five Owners,

Five Owners, three 2/0, one 1/0, and one size #2. The #2 is on an eyed hook.

Some of the correspondents to Marbury’s book in 1892 were already recommending their personal preference to use eyed hooks and to tie their own tippets to their flies. The 1893 Orvis Display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, has a good number of flies dressed on eyed hooks. The 1890’s were the period of transition from blind-eye to eyed hooks, even though many companies and anglers continued to use flies dressed on blind eye hooks. With this information in mind, it is perfectly acceptable to replicate a 19th century fly pattern on a vintage or antique eyed hook, and still be historically correct.


Owner – 2/0. The correct ribbing for this pattern is fine yellow or pale green chenille. Chenille comes in five sizes: extra small, small, medium (Wooly Bugger Size), large, and extra large. Most fly shops sell only the medium size.

The Marbury book Owner plate fly appears to have a ribbing of very light, pale green chenille, while the version from the 1890 Orvis display has a yellow chenille rib. The book pattern has a black chenille head while the display version has a thread head.

Owner from the 1893 Orvis Museum Display. Note the absence of the chenille head, which was a component of the book pattern.

Owner Bass Fly from the 1893 Orvis Museum Display. Note the absence of the chenille head, which was a component of the book pattern. I would estimate this hook size as a 2/0 or 3/0. Note the beautiful density of the chenille. It was probably silk, but may have been wool chenille.

J. Edson Leonard’s pattern version in his 1950 book, Flies, of a body for the Owner of yellow floss with a ribbing of “thick yellow floss” is not what I consider a pattern variation. It makes no sense to me as a fly tying recipe. Let me say, fly pattern “political correctness” is not my thing. I love Leonard’s book, but I have no idea how he arrived at this recipe, or a good number of others from Marbury’s book that are “different.” My work with the actual photos I took of the original flies from Marbury’s book and plates of actual flies has been a strong focus in my current book in progress, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. By publishing accurate pattern recipes based on meticulous study of the actual flies and photographs, I hope to clarify these patterns and their components for the benefit of all interested fly tiers.

Thank you for your interest in classic patterns.

12 comments on “Owner – 19th Century Bass Fly

  1. Terry says:

    Superb work as usual Don! I do note with interest (being a Marylander) the mispelling of Potomoc for my home river the Potomac but if the flies work, who cares!

  2. John Larsen says:


    Great info. Looking at the display fly I would think the Guinea Fowl was died orange and the hackle was an brownish-orange. You must take into account the fading over the years. I would be interested to know how you determine the colors in the patterns. Is it an educated guess or is there more to it than that? I myself am colorblind in the kahki, tan, light green area.

    I will see you Saturday at the Bear’s Den hopefully and definitely at the class Sunday, which I am happy I will be able to attend.. Keep up the good work.


    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi John;
      I also have the photo of the Owner from the plate that was used in the book. For comparison, the hackle is definitely orange, and the wing is red dyed. No question.
      My determination on the colors of the flies and materials is mostly my personal interpretation. I also consult the book plates. Surprisingly, there is comparatively little fading that has occurred over the years. These flies, both from the display and the book plates, to my knowledge, were not kept in a climate controlled area, but they were at least protected from light, for the most part.
      Thanks for your comment! Look forward to seeing you!

  3. Kelly L says:

    Great stuff Don. I love these flies. Thank you for posting this.

  4. Mike Ragan says:

    Beautiful work Don. I’m glad you are keeping these alive for us!

  5. Bill says:

    Yet another great lesson from the history if American wet flies. Thank you, DB.

  6. Dave Wood says:

    Beautiful flies, Don. I’m glad to see your efforts go in this direction.

  7. joel stansbury says:

    Don, thanks for all your hard work. Researching, comparing, documenting, this all takes a lot of time, it is obvious that this is a labor of love for you.Nobody else in their right mind would subject themselves to all this work. We respect and appreciate all your efforts. Stay healthy, we don’t want to lose you.
    Cheers, Joel

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Joel;
      Thank you for your comment; in particular thanks so much for your endorsement of my work and effort. Good thing you commented it was a “labor of love,” otherwise I may have thought you were trying to tell me I’m nuts. :mrgreen: Ha, ha, ha! Thanks for your encouragement and support. Appreciate it very much! As far as the health, I’ll do my part; hopefully my body will cooperate. 😉

  8. […] knew back then that smallmouth were special. Around the same time J.S. Owner of Maryland was experimenting with smallmouth bass fly patterns on the Potomac River. Considering we’ve now had about a hundred-and-fifty years to figure it […]

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