Alexandra Wet Fly

The Al4exandra Wet Fly - from the 1893 Orvis Display

The Alexandra Lake Fly – from the 1893 Orvis Display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. This fly is 120 years old. The hook size is approximately a 1/0. Note the whole light brown mottled turkey quill wing under the peacock sword. This previously unknown full quill wing is just one tidbit of actual fly pattern component discovery that I have unearthed during my research for my book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. The turkey wing on the Alexandra has seemingly been missed from most, if not all fly pattern sources where this pattern was published for over one-hundred years.

Alexandra

Tag: Flat gold tinsel and red floss

Tail: Peacock sword fibers

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Hackle: Chinchilla (grizzly that is mostly white), or grizzly

Wing: Light brown mottled turkey with peacock sword topping and red splits

Head: Red or black

The Alexandra is pattern number thirty-six of the Lake Flies in Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories.

J. Edson Leonard’s Recipe for the Alexandra:

Tag: Flat gold tinsel * (see footnote)

Tail: Peacock sword fibers

Tip: Flat gold tinsel * (see footnote)

Ribbing: silver

Body: Gray floss

Hackle: Gray dun or badger

Wing: Peacock sword, red splits

* J. Edson Leonard in his 1950 book, Flies, lists the tip as a “red floss tip, gold tag,” while this is his own definition of a tip: “A tip is any winding such as floss or tinsel located immediately behind the body and may or may not be accompanied by a tag, which is always under the tail fibers, whereas the tip always encircles the tail fibers. Alternately, Leonard defines a tag as: The tag is a narrow winding of silk, tinsel or fur located at the rear of the body and under the tail fibers.” He elaborates further: “…not synonymous with “tip” which, although disputed by some authorities, is always in front of the tag winding and immediately behind the body.”

Leonard’s own line drawing, Figure 7, p. 37 in Flies, shows a contradictory labeling of “tip” and “tag.” The fly on Figure 7 shows a two-part tag and no tip, even though the front floss portion of the tag is labeled as the “tip.” I am going to go with his written definition, as it makes more sense, even though this is one of the rare occasions that I choose to place more trust in what I read rather than what I can see. I love J. Edson Leonard’s book, Flies, don’t get me wrong on that. It is very detailed and covers a ton of material. Yet there are mistakes in his fly pattern recipes taken from Mary Orvis Marbury’s book plates, that I have discovered according my visual inspection and study of the actual flies that were used for the painted color plates in Marbury’s Favorite Flies.

I listed the tag, tip, and tail on Leonard’s recipe according to his written definition of the material placement, though this contradicts further with the Marbury / Orvis published pattern, from which Leonard reputedly took his recipe for the Alexandra.

According to Mary Orvis Marbury’s writing in Favorite Flies and Their Histories; the Alexandra “was originally named by General Gerald Goodlake ‘Lady of the Lake,’ but this name was afterwards abandoned in favor of Alexandra.” The Alexandra takes its name from Princess Alexandra of Great Britain. Marbury considered that the Alexandra “may not properly be called an artificial fly, being intended as a vague imitation of a minnow, and was originally recommended to be cast and played minnow fashion just below the surface of the water.”

“The pattern was invented by Doctor Hobbs a number of years ago, and it came into great favor with English fishermen; indeed, it was believed to be so taking that its use was forbidden on some streams. The favorite method was to allow the line to run with the current, and then draw it back up stream by short, sudden jerks that opened and closed the hackles, giving a glimpse of the bright, silvery body.” (Note Leonard’s body of gray floss).

Marbury also wrote: The Alexandra is “preferred on large hooks, and is used for trout in deep, dark waters, or for black bass, for either of which it is frequently effective, owing probably to its likeness, when being drawn rapidly through the water, to a tiny minnow.”

My family and friends have found the Alexandra to be a particularly effective pattern for brook trout and landlocked salmon in Maine. My niece Emily also had success one year right over the hill from my home on Pennsylvania’s Lycoming Creek, trailing an Alexandra behind a Wooly Bugger. On that Memorial Day afternoon in 2006, Emily landed seventeen trout, and just three fish took the bugger. The remaining thirteen trout were taken on the Alexandra, Yellow Sally, and Parmacheene Belle. Guess nobody told those browns and rainbows she caught that they weren’t supposed to eat classic brook trout flies.

This writing is a sampling of the fly pattern information that my research has turned up in my work on writing my first book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. The book is in the final phase of completion.

The Fly Young Knight

The Fly Young Knight is a poem that was written by Frederick L. Whiting in 1927. It was copyrighted and made into 12″ x 22″ posters in 1950. As I understand, the original with mounted wet flies, hangs in the Adirondack  League Club clubhouse in New York. According to their website, there is an address in Old Forge, New York, but that is a PO Box and I am uncertain of the actual clubhouse location. This group is open to membership, and is dedicated to “the preservation and conservation of the Adirondack forest and the propagation and proper protection of fish and game in the Adirondack region.”

A copy of The Fly Young Knight also hangs in The Angler’s Club of New York. According to the writer, this whimsical poem was written about the Gray Knight, an old wet fly pattern given a mythical life in verse as the Gray Knight, with this distinction in the second line of the poem: “Emblazoned on his shield he bore a Parmacheene Belle.” Thus the poem continues with more fly patterns named as the tale unfolds.

When Jim Deren, owner of The Angler’s Roost in Manhattan passed away in 1983, Judith Bowman and Hoagy Carmichael, Jr., cleaned out Jim’s shop and his infamous “backroom.” They found a stack of rolled poster copies of The Fly Young Knight, and decided to engage a fly tier from Massachusetts to make ten sets of the flies, then mounted and framed them and sold them at a sale for $250.00. That was in 1985.

I never heard of The Fly Young Knight until last summer when a friend sent me a copy of the poem in the mail as a surprise gift. I recently tied the patterns for a customer in Connecticut, he was going to mount the flies himself. I took photos of the patterns and have copied The Fly Young Knight into a computer file with the intent to post the poem and fly photos inserted among the verses on the blog. Here it is:

The Fly Young Knight

by Frederick L. Whiting

Forth to the fight a good

Gray Knight

rode manfully and well.

Emblazoned on his shield he bore a

Parmachenee Belle

 

And from his tried and trusty lance there glittered in the sun

A gaudy

Alexandra

and a

Pale Blue Evening Dun.

From which you’ll please to understand, don’t fail to get this right,

The flies were on his armor, but there was none on the

Gray Knight.

 

No heed he gave to life or limb, nor fear lest he might fall,

He’d often fought in

Beaverkill

and also

Montreal.

Two squires attended his needs and with him cast their lot,

The one a

Royal Coachman

and the other

Jock Scott.

They polished off their golden spears; they oiled their gear and tackle.

And on their silken bonnets wore a

Bucktail

and a

Hackle.

The banner each one held aloft, renowned in song and story,

Was garnished with a

Katydid

beneath

Greenwell’s Glory.

Two husky heralds named

Cahill

made all the welkin ring,

And from a wood hard by appears a dashing

Grizzly King.

With haughty mien he makes salute, his plume waves in the wind,

While he defies the world to match the charm of

Jenny Lind.

What ho! Responds the proud

Gray Knight,

none ever yet heard tell

Of a maid so fair as can compare with

Parmachenee Belle.

Quick to the list these champions, their sturdy charges drew,

While overhead

Jungle Cock

and

Scarlet Ibis

flew.

Each laid his trusty lance in rest and dashed across the flat

When in the eye of

Grizzly King

there flew a fierce

Black Gnat.

This put his optics out of whack, he tumbled in the dirt.

He “bust” the buttons off his pants and split his undershirt.

So when he loudly yelled for help and made a great to do

They brought him a

Professor

and a

Silver Doctor

too.

Their ministrations hurt him so he gave them both a kick,

And for a fee he handed each a

Cowdung

on a stick.

In kicking them he hurt his toe which made him more forlorn

They put

Blue Jay

plaster then upon his knightly corn.

The wrathful

Grizzly King

was placed in bed attended by his daughters,

And she who bathed his injured eye was called the

Queen of Waters

Moral:

This goes to show that knights of old when walloped in the eye

Would belly ache about their pain like any other guy.

The Fly Young Knight, written, 1927, by Frederick L.Whiting. 1950 is the copyright date on the poster.