Cheney Bass Fly and A. N. Cheney’s Hardy Reel

A couple months ago I received an e-mail message from a potential customer. He had been searching online for information about fly patterns connected to Albert Nelson Cheney. This is the same A. N. Cheney who co-authored Fishing With the Fly in 1883 with Charles F. Orvis. Cheney is also referred to quite frequently in Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories. My customer, Howard Weinberg, reached out to me “because my name kept coming up” during his internet quest for information. It’s good that my name came up in association with historic and classic fishing fly patterns, rather than say, any number of other topics I might be connected to if circumstances were different. During a brief exchange of e-mail messages, Howard and I agreed that I would tie a half-dozen each of the Puffer, a 19th century Adirondack trout fly that was used and probably named by Mr. Cheney, and the Cheney, a Bass Fly pattern that was published in Marbury’s Favorite Flies.

Of the Puffer, Cheney had one in his possession, that he described to “A little brown-eyed maiden, once, looking into my fly book, asked why I had the old, frayed flies tied up in separate papers, and marked, while the nice new flies did not show this care. Had she been of maturer years, I might have quoted Alonzo of Aragon’s commendation of old friends; but, instead, I merely said: ‘The nice new flies I can easily buy, but no one sells such old flies; therefore I take the greater care of them because of their rarity.’ ” Favorite Flies, p. 349.

“On another page we find him looking over these same old flies, and he says; ‘Take for instance this one, with the legend written on its wrapper: Puffer Pond, June, 1867 -thirty-five pounds of trout in two hours. The last of the gentlemen that did the deed.’ This to me, tells the very pleasant story of a week spent in the Adirondacks. I remember, as I hold the ragged, faded fly in my hand, and see that it still retains something of the dark blue of its mohair body and the sheen of its cock-feather wings, that it was one of six flies I had in my fly book that day in June that stands out from other June days, in my memory, like a Titan amongst pygmies. That fly had no name, but the trout liked it for all that, and rose to it with as much avidity as though they had been properly introduced to some real bug, of which this was an excellent counterfeit. That glorious two hours’ time, with its excitement of catching and landing without a net some of the most beautiful and gamy fish that ever moved fin, comes back to me as vividly as though at this moment the four walls of my room were the forest-circled shores of that far-away pond, and I stand in that leaky boat, almost ankle-deep in the water that Frank, the guide, had no time to bail, occupied as he is in watching my casts, and admiring my whip-like rod during the play of the fish or fishes, and in turning the boat’s gunwale to the water’s edge to let my trout in when they are exhausted. It is sharp, quick work, and the blue-bodied fly is always first of all the flies composing the cast to get a rise, until I take off all but the one kind, and then, one after another, I see them torn, mutilated, and destroyed. Later, they will be put away as old warriors gone to rest, and their epitaph written on their wrappings; ‘Thy work was well done; they rest well-earned.’ ” Favorite Flies, pp. 349-50.

“The fly without a name, that awakens memories of ‘that June day that stands out from other June days’ is now called the Puffer.” Favorite Flies, p. 350.

Cheney was instrumental in the creation of the bass fly pattern that bears the heritage of his name. In the 1880’s, Mr. Cheney was visiting the Orvis fly tying room in Manchester, Vermont, seeking to develop a new bass fly pattern. According to the account in Marbury’s book, p. 402: “One summer when Mr. Cheney was staying at Schroon Lake, a few flies, all of them new combinations, were sent to him to try. Among them was a fly like that of the present Cheney fly, but with a black wing. Later in the season Mr. Cheney visited Manchester, when he said, “If that fly had a different wing, it would be just about my idea of a perfect fly for black bass.” Feathers were therefore inspected to find a more suitable wing, and finally those of the mallard with a black bar decided upon. The fly was then made, under Mr. Cheney’s supervision. When finished to his satisfaction he named it the Cheney, and his success with the fly in many different waters has proved the correctness of his theories and conclusions drawn from previous experiments.”

I tied the Puffer fly for Adirondack trout, in sizes #6 and #8, and the Cheney Bass Flies in #2 and #4. Then I went about and prepared to photograph those flies for a blog post in conjunction with the bonus photographs that are included here, before I mailed them to my customer. That’s the day my camera fell from the TV tray and landed on the hardwood floor. This fall rendered the camera a total wreck and useless for anything except a paperweight or perhaps a shooting practice target item from that day forward. Which I felt like doing, but in actuality I think I can still get a trade-in allowance for it in the purchase of a new / used camera. I intended to replace it last month, but Abigail, my Cocker Spaniel, (see the topic “Boat Dog” from June 2013), required urgent surgery for a tumor on her spleen. That set me back almost $1100, so the camera allowance was eaten up by the life-saving operation on the dog. Abigail is doing great, so all is well!

Hence, my original plan to post photos of the Puffer and Cheney flies and photos of an antique Hardy brass-faced reel that was owned by and is engraved with the owner’s name, A. N Cheney, has still come to fruition, though not entirely as originally intended. My deepest thanks go to my customer, Howard Weinberg, for taking these photos of his valuable, collectible Hardy Perfect brass-face reel and the Cheney Bass Flies.

Antique brass-faced Hardy perfect Reel, once owned by Albert Nelson Cheney. Photo by Howard Weinberg.

Antique brass-faced Hardy Perfect Reel, once owned by Albert Nelson Cheney, co-author with Charles F. Orvis of their 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly. Photo by Howard Weinberg. Forster Hardy was first granted a full patent for the Perfect reel design in 1889.

A. N. Cheney's Hardy Perfect reel, with two Cheney Bass Flies, tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Howard Weinberg.

A. N. Cheney’s Hardy Perfect Reel, with two #2 Cheney Bass Flies, tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Howard Weinberg. The flies are dressed on vintage Mustad 3906 wet fly hooks.

Hardy reel that belonged to A.N. Cheney of Glens Falls, New York; once editor of

Hardy Perfect Reel that belonged to A. N. Cheney of Glens Falls, New York; Cheney was the editor of the fishing department of Shooting and Fishing. Photo by Howard Weinberg.

Cheney's Hardy perfect reel with Cheney Bass Fly tied by Don Bastian.

Cheney’s Hardy perfect reel with Cheney Bass Fly tied by Don Bastian. Photo by Howard Weinberg.

I think it is amazing to think that Cheney possibly used this reel to fish his Cheney Bass Fly, or that he fished the Puffer in a wet fly cast for trout. Here is the recipe for the Cheney:

Cheney

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Green parrot (or goose shoulder) and barred wood duck

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel over the rear half of the body

Body: Rear half white floss; front half red chenille

Hackle: Yellow collar

Wing: White-tipped black-barred mallard wing coverts, paired as a spoon wing

Head: Light olive with red band at rear of head

My rendition of the head on this fly was taken from one of my photographs of the actual Plate Fly for the Cheney; it is finished with a light olive thread with a red band, fairly well-done in comparison to most of the flies that sport the rather unkempt look of the reverse-winged head used on most of the patterns back then. I also used Elmer’s Rubber Cement to glue the wing feathers together prior to mounting them to the hook, a technique I borrowed from my assembly of streamer wing hackles – shoulders – cheeks for Carrie Stevens’ fly patterns. This works great for winging some of these large-spoon winged flies that may present problematic feathers or mounting when tied in. The cement is applied just along the stem, for a half an inch or so, then pressed and held together for ten to fifteen seconds. Sometimes I lay the cemented wing down and place an object like an extra pair of scissors on the wing; the weight helps to hold them together while the cement sets.

Below is a photo of the Puffer from the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

The Puffer wet fly, an Adirondack trout fly pattern.

The Puffer wet fly, an Adirondack trout fly pattern. This fly is labeled in Mary Orvis Marbury’s handwriting, from the 1893 Orvis Fly Display, presently held at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. Photo by Don Bastian.

Puffer

Tag:                 Fine flat gold tinsel

Tail:                 Red duck or goose quill

Ribbing:          Fine flat or oval gold tinsel

Body:               Dark blue mohair dubbing

Hackle:            English grouse, or dark brown mottled hen

Wing:              Iridescent blue rooster or mallard wing  sections

Head:              Black thread

This dressing for the Puffer is correct according to study of this photo and the information presented in the text of Marbury’s book. I hope you have enjoyed this trip back in time!

Parmacheene Belle – Revisited

Here is another Parmacheene Belle wet fly. This dressing is correct according to the original recipe written by the originator, Henry P. Wells, in the 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly, co-authored by Charles F. Orvis and Albert Nelson Cheney.

One of the commenters on my last post of this pattern on classicflytyingforum.com, of several weeks ago now, correctly observed that the hackle was a little full, and perhaps too long. (That fly was posted here a couple-three weeks ago). It may have been, especially a tad long, but generally, in the traditional tying style of the period (19th century), hackles were longer rather than shorter, and they were more full, rather than sparse. Tying styles and preferences can change over time, but I am a firm believer in tying and replicating flies in their original dressings and style if possible.

For example, many tiers use goose shoulder for wet fly wings, particularly married wings. My belief is: you have to use goose shoulder, but only for married wings in patterns that also call for turkey. Technically, this does not change the pattern correctness, but in actuality, goose shoulder was not used much for primary wing construction on commercially-tied wet flies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Otherwise, the Parmacheene Belle, for example, and nearly all other married wing wet fly patterns use goose or duck wing quills for the wing. There were some exceptions, as in a married wing pattern like the Munro, Silver Doctor, Lake Edward, and Ferguson, because these patterns also use turkey, which does not marry well to duck or goose wing quill sections. Hence my comment above about marrying goose shoulder to turkey. This is the Prime Directive of Married Wings – “always maintain uniformity of texture as much as possible.” The 19th century “married” wing, or more correctly named, “mixed wing” version of these patterns was generally tied with a full wing of turkey mounted first, then followed with “splits” of other colors; usually of goose shoulder, laid over the wing.

My thought is this: A Black Prince Lake Fly, for example, is properly tied and historically correct with a wing of goose wing quill. When tied with a wing of black goose shoulder, it may look good, but it (goose shoulder) generally gives the fly a “too-low” wing profile, at least when considering it as an accurate representation or rendition of a 19th century classic pattern. The low-swept wing makes it look more like a contemporary  steelhead or salmon pattern, rather than a 19th century fly, which would have the wing at a sharp upward angle of forty-to-fifty degrees. A quick glance at the color plates of the Lake Flies, Bass Flies, and Trout Flies in Marbuy’s book confirms this.

So in my case, until just a few years ago, my personal representation and tying of wet flies was in the 20th century style, with wing-tips up, melded with the divided wing style (formerly my favorite) preferred by J. Edson Leonard, author of Flies, 1950, and opposing Bergman’s method (and the generally accepted traditional method) of mounting wet fly wings with concave sides together. My 2010 wet fly article in Hatches Magazine presented the four different methods or styles of setting wet fly wings. All are correct in my view. More recently I have been somewhat converted to the older looking, more traditional, and more historically correct method of setting the wings with the tip down, giving the wing a slightly lower profile, and a perhaps more pleasing to the eye, sweeping natural curve that starts right at the base of the wing at the tie-in point. This is the result of my observation and study of the display flies from the 1893 Orvis Exhibition in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, and my good fortune to have been granted access to, and held (while wearing white cotton gloves), examined, and photographed the “holy grail” of the thirty-one actual fly plates that were used for the artist’s paintings for Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 epic book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories. There were thirty-two original plates in Marbury’s book, but Plate Z is missing from the museum collection.

The angle and mounting style of the wings was also different in the 19th century. Nearly all wet flies, whether using single or married quill feather sections, whole “spoon wing” feathers, or tips of gray mallard, barred wood duck, bronze mallard, or quill wings with splits, were all tied “reverse-winged.” That is, with the wing tied down, butt ends to the rear, tips pointing forward over the front of the fly, then pulled back over and lashed in place with a half dozen or so wraps. The bulky head of the fly included the visible folded-over butts of the stems or quill sections. This also gave the wings a higher angle relative to the body. This technique was used on blind-eye and eyed hooks, that became increasingly more popular just one year after Marbury’s book was written. John Betts wrote an article about the reverse-wing method in a 1996 article in The American Flyfisher, the magazine of the American Museum of fly Fishing. Well, I’m getting carried away, or free-lancing my thoughts on this topic…

More of this type information will be in my upcoming book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892, which includes all 291 of the patterns published in M. O. Marbury’s Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, plus more than 200 additional patterns from the Orvis archives.

Here is the Parmacheene Belle, original pattern version; this is tied on a  size #2, vintage Mustad 3399 wet fly hook.

Parmacheene Belle -

Parmacheene Belle – this version is tied divided wing, “tip-up.” The yellow rabbit dubbing substituted for the original yellow mohair does a reasonable job of imitating the original material. Some later 20th century commercial versions of the Parmacheene Belle eliminated the silver tinsel tag, and changed the butt to black ostrich herl, and the body to yellow floss.

The only recipe change I made is I used yellow rabbit dubbing in place of Wells’ original yellow mohair specified on the body.

In March of this year, I taught an extended weekend fly tying class for Wilson’s Fly Shop of Toronto and Fergus, at a Bed and Breakfast in the lovely town of Fergus. We covered traditional wet flies, Carrie Stevens streamers using her proprietary methods, and on Sunday morning, flies from Marbury’s book. When the subject of reverse wings came up, it was unanimous that the students wanted to try this. The only problem was that the instructor, yours truly, had never done it. Their desires prevailed against my hesitation, so it was agreed that attempting the reverse-wing tying method would be a learning experience for everyone. We tied at least three patterns using this method, and everyone did fairly well with the process, despite it being a totally new experience for everyone.

One of my Canadian friends, John Hoffmann, of Fergus, tied a few patterns for my book. John works part-time for the Fergus location of Wilson’s, and also guides and does some teaching of fly tying and fly fishing for the shop. Besides the bed and breakfast stay where the class was held, John, his wife Cathy, and their Airedale, Gracie, were my hosts for a few extra days. Thanks John, Cathy, and Gracie!

I intend to make the posting of those patterns, my first effort at reverse-winged flies next on my blog – hopefully later this week. Thanks to everyone for your subscriptions and devotion to my writings!

Boat Dog

One of my friends and a fly customer, Steve Sawczuk, from Plainville, Connecticut, invited me this past winter to join his group again at the Wantastiquet Trout Club near Weston, Vermont. We arrived on June 16th, and spent several days there. Fellow fly tier and friend, Roger Plourde, was there,  – See my Silk Gut for Sale Post – that’s Roger, he still has some available. He is also from Plainville and was an invited guest as well. Last year Steve invited me, and I ended up taking Abigail, my Cocker Spaniel, along. We had great fishing to evening hatches of yellow drakes, and we hoped to hit that hatch again. We were a week later, but last year the weather was unseasonably warm early on. There were six of us in the group: Steve, Roger, Dick Heffernon, Bill Keister, Ray Riley, and myself. This year Abigail tagged along again, and Zeb, a Border Collie mixed-breed, owned by Ray, another Trout Club member, joined the group as well. He and Abigail got along great. Zeb rides in the boat. Abigail on the other hand, at eleven-and-a-half years of age, has never been in a boat in her life. That was, not until this past June 17th.

Zeb and Ray

Zeb and Ray returning to our camp at the Wantastiquet Trout Club.

On Monday afternoon, I decided to try taking Abigail in the boat. At first she was hesitant, in fact, probably terrified is a better description, because I could not coax her to come to me in the boat. I actually had to get out of the boat and catch her, then physically carry her back to the dock and place her in the boat. Once we motored off, she pretty much settled down and was about as passive and uninterested as she possibly could be about the whole experience. We drifted and anchored and motored about, trying here and there, catching a decent number of trout, and yet Abigail seemed, well, bored, which she expressed by lying flat on her side. But she’s a very low-key dog anyway, unless there is some possibility of her snagging a morsel of food. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog treat or people food, regardless, she wants it, twenty-four-seven. I feed her one cup of kibble per day and a few other treats, and that’s it. Whenever she’s in a group of people, no matter how many, if only one had some food, even a stranger, Abigail becomes their new best friend. She was a little overweight for a couple years when my mother-in-law was caring for her during a rather unsettled period of my life from 2008 to August of 2011, but once I got her back and got her food under control, she’s right where she’s supposed to be with her weight.

Arriving at camp there was an immediate problem, because Zeb is fed with an “open feeding” policy, and the very first thing Abigail did upon entering the cabin was to follow her nose, zero in on Zeb’s bowl and start eating his food. I wrote Ray in an e-mail beforehand indicating that she would do that. The poor little girl is now also about ninety-percent deaf. Fortunately even as a pup, I trained her not only with voice commands, but also simultaneously used hand-signals as well. That has proven to be fortuitous. When she was a younger dog, it was a good feeling to simply give her a mere hand signal and have her come, sit, stay, etc. Now, it helps a great deal, and could even save her life.

Anyway, with each occasion that Abigail got into the boat, she got more used to it, and I believe she grew to enjoy it more and more. The first two times when we docked up after fishing, she was afraid to make the three-inch jump from the seat of the boat to the dock. But the third and subsequent times, she left the boat without hesitation.

Abigail

Abigail – the “Boat Dog” – surveys the lake as Ken Hall, aka Quill Gordon, author of Fish in A Barrel Pond Blog, handles the trolling motor, guiding us to a “hot spot” on the lake. Sorry to cut your body out of the photo Ken, but Abigail is the star of this show. Besides, your pictures are coming up soon.

This is a photo of our camp.

This is a photo of our camp. That’s Ray on his cell phone, talking on the porch because you can’t get a signal inside. Funny how moving just a few feet makes the difference in the signal strength.

heavy weather moving in.

Heavy weather moving in Tuesday afternoon on Wantastiquet Lake. At the time I was in the boat with Dick Heffernon, another guest in the party. We had a bit of an experience with this approaching storm.

On that Monday afternoon I was with Dick in the boat, and the storm was well to the north at first, though we could hear the thunder far off. We were hopeful that it would pass without incident. After a little while, there seemed to be darkening clouds gathering more to our immediate west, and we thought about moving the boat closer to camp, just in case we had to bolt for the dock.

Clouds and rain in t

Clouds and increasing wind create ominous conditions of an imminent storm.

At about this point, I looked to the west, and there appeared to be a bank of fog moving in. But I knew it was no fog bank. It was rain; the kind of rain that is so heavy it can cut visibility to near-zero. Visibility was still good, however, and I estimated the rain was about two miles distant. Dick and I quickly agreed that we’d better haul our butts toward shore. Roger and Ray had passed us about five minutes earlier, calling the fishing over for a while, with the thunder approaching and getting louder.  But right before we made the decision to get of the water, Dick got his fly line got tangled around the propeller on the trolling motor. I dropped the anchor to keep us from drifting down the lake, which would have carried us farther away from our dock and camp. When Dick raised the motor up, he could see that there was no hope of untangling his line from the prop, considering the wave action effecting the boat, plus the reality that Dick would have to be possessing the body of a professional gymnast or a contortionist circus performer to assume the necessary posture and balance to do the work at hand. And that he is not, nor am I. Option number two was to row, row, row the boat back. But there wasn’t going to be any singing of that traditional campfire round during this trip.

Just then a fantastic, jagged, sprawling, and very bright jolt of lightning streaked across the sky over the mountain to the north. The ends of its long, scraggly fingers dipped below the horizon, perhaps a strike somewhere. I quickly pulled the anchor, mounted the oars, and started rowing. We had to travel about a quarter of a mile. When we were about 100 yards from the dock, the wind increased exponentially in velocity, seeming to blow about thirty or more miles per hour. It came up very fast, and despite my best exertion of rowing strength and efforts of guidance with the oars, we missed the mark and the boat settled against the shore, fortunately though, only about thirty feet from end of the dock. By now it was starting to rain, luckily for us not pouring, but the wind was blowing like it was during the storm scene from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Except in our situation there was no funnel cloud, no musical sound track, and the Wicked Witch of the West was not flying across the sky on her broom threatening to cart me and Abigail off to her lair. In retrospect that would have been a perfect and entertaining time for me to do my best falsetto imitation of the Wicked Witch: “I’ll get you yet, my pretty, and your little dog, too! Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, h-a-a-a-a-a!”

Dick and I managed to reach the dock, chain the boat, and get out of Dodge. It had started raining, though not real heavy yet, which was a good thing because we had to walk about fifty yards to our camp. Just as we reached the safety of the cabin, the wind and rain arrived with a vengeance. Indeed, in less than one minute the rain was so heavy we could not see across the lake, and in fact, we could barely see the dock fifty feet away. The cabin porch faces directly to the west, and the wind drove that rain right through the screens onto the porch and everything on it. Fortunately a half-hour later the storm had passed and the lake was again calm. We watched as a few trout started rising, but we made a trip to the grocery at Londonderry, and after returning, we hung around camp, enjoying camaraderie, libations, and cigars while waiting for dinner. I also set up my fly tying stuff and hoped to tie a few more extended-body Yellow Drakes, since most of the guys took trout on them Sunday evening, despite that fact there was not really a big hatch of them. What I actually ended up doing that afternoon was repair several flies that I had given Steve and Roger. Steve had one of my Yellow Drakes from the year before, that the hackle came partially unwound – see this post from Fish in A Barrel Pond Blog: http://fishinabarrelpond.com/2012/06/25/trout-candy-eye-candy/ So I repaired it for him, a simple matter of attaching a new hackle feather.

I’ve never had one of my extended body drake patterns fall apart in any way, but Roger had one where the thread ribbing over the extended abdomen came off. I basically made a new abdomen, cut off the old one, and attached the new one in its place. Ken was watching me do this work, and the guys were all getting a big kick out of it and commenting on “Don’s Fly Repair.” At one point Ken made the remark, “Would you like to purchase a Service Agreement with that fly for an additional five dollars? Guaranteed repairs for the life of the fly.” By the time I completed the repairs, it was time for me to clear the table for dinner. I had made lasagna ahead of time on Sunday morning before my departure, chilled but not baked it, and also created a tossed salad, and a fresh-made pecan pie (I made it myself) that was still warm when we served it right after dinner. If you checked the post above, you’ll note from Quill Gordon’s photos that the weather was nice enough in 2012 for me to have my tying stuff permanently set up on the cabin porch. That was the year we were sipping the “Weapons Grade Head Cement Thinner, aka Moonshine. 😉 It was too cold this year. We had a few night time temps in the upper forties and low fifties.

I don't know whether Abigail was looking or sniffing, probably both.

I don’t know whether Abigail was looking or sniffing, probably both. Something seemed to have her attention. Perhaps she saw a fish.

Abigail, Queen of the Boat.

Abigail, Queen of the Boat.

The middle seat became Abigail's favorite resting place.

The middle seat became Abigail’s favorite resting place. Yeah, as her owner, I’m partial and prejudiced, she’s a beautiful little girl and her beauty is only enhanced by her sweet disposition. Ray noted her facial markings are appropriate, her eye mask makes her appear like a little bandit. Indeed!

Ken and I motored about, here and there…picking up an occasional trout.

At one point we passed close to Ray and Roger.

At one point we passed close to Ray and Roger…and Zeb.

Zeb is very interested in what goes on in the boat. He sees trout rise and practically goes on point if they surface close to the boat. He knows the sound and the reason of a reel drag, and has learned to associate that sound with a hooked fish. He still gets excited even if one of the anglers in his boat merely strips off more line to make a longer cast. He loves being in the boat so much that he’ll just go sit on the dock and wait, hoping to go fishing.

Ken Hall

“Quill Gordon” has a fish on.

Ken, aka Quill Gordon, wrote a post on his blog and made a few remarks about our visit and my time with him in the boat. To check that out follow this link:

http://fishinabarrelpond.com/2013/06/22/stubbornly-waiting-for-drakes/

The Caddis Emerger Ken refers to in his writing is my Floating Caddis Emerger, or more appropriately, my older pattern called the Hatching Caddis Adult, which is also another surface caddis emerger pattern.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was with Steve in the boat. We trolled a bit and drifted here and there. He was fishing various nymphs and drys with a George Mauer Sweetwater bamboo rod, a seven-foot, nine-inch seven weight. I used my sink-tip and was casting a Wooly Bugger. I managed to draw only two strikes, and Steve had done nothing. I said, “I’m thinking of putting on my Floating Caddis Emerger, I can’t do any worse with that than I am with this Bugger.” Next thing I know, in barely three minutes, Steve has a fish on. I asked, “What did you get him on?”

“You’re not gonna believe this, but I got him on your emerger pattern,” He replied.

“No s***!” I exclaimed. I hadn’t even noticed that he changed flies. Steve soon got another trout. By then I changed to a floating line and also put on a Floating Caddis Emerger, a tan-bodied pattern. Steve caught another trout. And another. And another. Meanwhile I could not buy a strike with my fly. I inspected his, and it was one of some that he had tied during the winter, with a darker ginger-brown body than what I had. What we both found interesting too, was that if no trout took the fly after the cast was made, rather than pick up and cast again, Steve worked the fly in slowly with a hand-twist retrieve. It would remain on the surface, or just under the film, so he’d either see a surface take or a swirl and feel the strike. And as my luck would have it I had left a container of those flies at home on my tying table. By the time he tallied seven trout on that fly in less than an hour, Ray and Steve trolled by. “Are you guys getting anything?” Roger queried.

“Steve is kicking my ass with my pattern,” I answered laughingly. Steve chuckled with obvious satisfaction.

“What’s that?” Roger inquired.

“My Floating Caddis Emerger,” I said. “The tally for our boat is: Steve – seven, me ZIP!”

A little while later, Steve offered for me to try casting his Mauer bamboo rod. He had mentioned that earlier, since indicating in an e-mail that he’d he recently bought that rod, I replied that I had known George Mauer for a few years before he passed away. The wind had died down and the lake was flat. I can’t say what the trout thought this fly was, because there were no caddis about, other than an occasional stray. Yet as we drifted about fifty yards from shore near a small cove, the first trout that rose within casting distance, fortunately for me, rose twice, just as I was making a cast. I was also standing up, which helped me adjust quickly. I was able to immediately alter my distance and targeting, and sighting the two rises in succession I determined the fish was moving from right to left. Trout in lakes and ponds seldom remain stationary as they do in flowing water. They cruise for food and it’s always a crap-shoot when you try to target a rising trout in a lake because he’s got a three-hundred sixty degree radius for possible movement and change of direction after the rise. I led the second rise by about four feet, hoping he was moving in that direction, and as luck would have it, he must have seen it hit the water. The trout came right up, slowly, we could both see the fish. He tipped up and without hesitation, kept coming and gently sucked in the fly. “Fish on!”

I offered Steve his rod back, but he was relaxing in his chair, smoking a cigar and said, “No, you go ahead.”

“Thanks! I’ll take you up on that.” I replied. We drifted a while, I cast here and there, enjoying the feel of the rod, and occasionally Steve turned the prop on the trolling motor a bit to keep the boat positioned just off shore. The next trout I took I did so while I was fishing blind, in other words, casting without seeing any rises. The water was flat calm and suddenly as I watched my fly, I saw something white off to the right, it was moving, then I realized it was the belly of a trout. Then I saw the shape of the fish. He was closing the distance to the fly, rising up, and just like the first trout, never stopped until he reached the fly and confidently gulped it in. Fish on again!  It was a very good feeling that we had success with my pattern during rather adverse conditions. Or at least the conditions did not seem so adverse, it was a nice, calm afternoon, it’s just that the trout were not on the feed.  Steve and I tallied nine trout that afternoon, to the other guy’s couple, or maybe three per boat. When we got back to camp, I made myself a spicy Bloody Mary and set about tying a batch of ginger-colored #16 Floating Caddis Emergers.

Quill Gordon brings a trout to the boat.

Quill Gordon brings a trout to the boat.

On Tuesday evening Ken offered to take me in the boat. Abigail and I graciously agreed. The photo above is of Ken landing one of the fish he took. I took two fish on my Floating Caddis Emerger, since we really were not seeing Yellow Drakes in numbers to say there was an actual hatch. And this was after Steve had done so well with it earlier in the day. But alas, I lost my last Floating Caddis Emerger in a fish, doing something that I know from experience I should not have done. Life is like that. On occasion we do the wrong thing even when we know better. I grabbed the 5x tippet and held on to it, trying to remove the fly from the jaw of a fourteen-inch brown, and when he made a sudden lunge, I hung on, and he broke the tippet knot and took the fly. I could have replaced it with one of two well-worn Floating Caddis Emergers, but I have retired both of them from service, except that I ask them to pose for an occasional photo to demonstrate their effectiveness. The photo posted there, of one of them, in late December of 2012, and again below, was one I took thirty-four trout with. The foam overback is all chewed and tattered, but otherwise the fly is intact. I ended up using an older pattern, another original fly I created in 1996 that was actually the predecessor to my Floating Caddis Emerger, mentioned above, it’s called the Hatching Caddis Adult. There’s a whole ‘nother collection of fish stories about that pattern as well. I’ll add that pattern and recipe and fish stories here sometime next week.

As I fished the Hatching Caddis Adult, a dry fly pattern similar in a number of ways to the Floating Caddis Emerger, I demonstrated to Ken how, if during a retrieve or pull of the line, that fly, due to its components and design, when treated with floatant,  submerges, but then when you stop, it resurfaces. The pattern literally breaks through the surface film. So does the Floating Caddis Emerger. I had demonstrated that about three times, even saying, “Watch this!”

Ken said, “That’s pretty cool,” and just then, SWOOSH! A nice trout struck the fly. But he missed, there was no connection when I raised the rod tip. But the point was made with additional emphasis from the fish. Nice!

A well-used Bastian's Floating Cadis Emerger, this fly lanede thirty-four trout in May of 2006.

A well-used Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger, this fly landed thirty-four trout on Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, one day in May of 2006. This pattern can be ordered from Orvis, http://www.orvis.com/store/product.aspx?pf_id=7R6A

I recently created a revised version of the Floating Caddis Emerger pattern that I have been selling. Bastian’s Floating Caddis-Mayfly Emerger with a ginger body, as I’m calling the revised pattern is available to order from me. I made a couple alterations to change the fly so it would not compete with the contract I have with Bastian’s Floating Caddis Emerger with the Orvis Company.

Bastian's Floating Caddis-Mayfly Emerger

Bastian’s Floating Caddis-Mayfly Emerger. I decided to add the chartreuse foam strip for an indicator to improve visibility of the pattern. The other difference is that instead of a single hackle wrap, I side-lashed hen back fibers for the legs.

Other than myself, the first anglers to test the new Hi-vis version of my Floating Caddis Emerger were Tom Ukena and his wife Sue, of Northborough, Massachusetts. They were on the Missouri River the first week of June, guiding with Tim Linehan, the Orvis 2013 Guide of the Year, and they really did extremely well with that pattern, taking as Tom wrote in an e-mail, “a good number of great fish, 18″ to 21”. I’ll be making a separate post about that fly before too long.

There was a nesting pair of loons on the lake this year.

There was a nesting pair of loons on the lake this year. The male stands guard not far offshore from the nest, and believe me, we knew he did. Not alarmed by our boats, but when a great blue heron flew over he cut loose with a loud, raucous, threatening series of calls and wails that I’m sure, included what would pass for loon profanity. The heron kept his distance.

The female loon on the nest, incubating two eggs.

The female loon on the nest, incubating two eggs. The top of her mate’s head is in the foreground.

On Quill Gordon’s Stubbornly Waiting for Drakes post, there is a photo of both loons and their freshly-hatched chicks on the water. And a bunch of yellow drakes too. Check it out!

PorterCove

Porter Cove on Wantastiquet Lake. I was in the boat with Bill, and while there I took two trout on my Floating Caddis Emerger. One of them was a fifteen-inch brown that smashed the fly like a largemouth bass hitting a plug. The water here is quite shallow, and since it was flat, I had to make some pretty long casts, probably sixty feet, to take trout. That’s one reason why I favor a six or seven-weight rod for boat and float tube fishing. Too much effort to struggle with a three or four-weight, especially if it’s windy and long casts are required. Even if you can cast fifty or sixty feet with a three-weight, it usually requires an extra effort of false casting. I believe ninety percent of all your casts can and should be made with only two backcasts – including your pickup stroke. In the end the reason for this is all about increasing your fishing efficiency.

Sunday June 16th on my way to camp, I stopped at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in nearby Manchester on a prearranged visit. Deputy Curator Yoshi Akiyama had the remaining seven plates of the original Orvis flies that were published in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, gathered together for me to photograph. They were not there in June in 2012 when I made the initial series of photos for my upcoming book, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. On my way back to Pennsylvania on Thursday June 20th, I stopped again at the museum and photographed another dozen or so flies from the 1893 Orvis Fly Display that I had not previously included. I’ll be adding these pattens to my book, increasing the number of additional fly patterns to about two-hundred twenty-five, beyond the two-hundred ninety-one from Marbury’s book. By the way, the new display, The Wonders of Fly Fishing, is now open at the Museum.

And so concludes another visit to Wantastiquet Lake. We all had a great time!

I just threw some seasoned chicken thighs on the grill, turned the heat down low, and I’ll leave them slow cook for at least an hour. In the meantime, I’m going to go make myself a spicy Bloody Mary.

Split Ibis Wet Fly

Here is another old wet fly pattern that historically was a part of our fly fishing heritage in the form of the traditional Lake Flies and smaller sizes of trout flies. I present the Split Ibis – both my tied version from the recipes of Ray Bergman’s Trout, 1938, and also another antique fly from the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester,Vermont.

The Bergman recipe for the wing reads, “white, scarlet, white, scarlet, married,” while visual inspection of the Orvis pattern starts with the scarlet on top. Normally in written married wing recipes, the order of components is written from the top down.

Here’s my version:

Split Ibis wet fly, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Split Ibis wet fly, tied and photographed by Don Bastian. Note the tail of golden pheasant tippet fibers, in comparison to the married tail on the Orvis version. The hook is a Mustad vintage 3399 Sproat Bend.

Split Ibis:

Hook: Standard wet fly hook #1 to #10

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #100 Black

Tail: Golden pheasant tippet

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel – addition of ribbing is my personal variation to reinforce the body and provide more flash

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Hackle: Brown

Wing: White, scarlet, white, scarlet – married

Head: Black

I apply four or five coats of head cement, finishing off with black Pro Lak on most of my wet flies and streamers.

The Split Ibis is included among the Lake Fly pattern in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892. It is pattern number 78. Here is my photo of the Split Ibis from the 1893 Orvis Display.

Split Ibis from the 1893 Orvis fly display.

Split Ibis Lake Fly from the 1893 Orvis fly display. The hook is approximately a No. 1 or 1/0. Note the body of oval silver tinsel, and the yellow part of the married tail is severely faded.

Split Ibis – Orvis Version

Tag: Flat gold tinsel – not visible on this pattern, but it can be seen on the Plate Fly image, plus I have my photo of the original plate fly; there is a tag of flat gold tinsel

Tail: Scarlet and yellow, married

Body: Oval silver tinsel

Hackle: Brown

Wing: Scarlet, white, scarlet, white – married

Historically the Split Ibis was a favorite Lake Fly pattern, successfully used for native brook trout and landlocked salmon. My niece, Emily, tied this pattern and has caught brook trout and salmon with it in Maine’s Moose and Roach Rivers.

Fitz-Maurice Lake Fly

This pattern as represented in Trout by Ray Bergman is a little different than the old, original 19th century version I discovered on the 1893 Orvis Display Plates at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. Bergman’s book obviously includes the Fitzmaurice as a trout pattern, while as represented in size on the Orvis display, it could be a either a Lake Fly, intended for brook trout and landlocked salmon, or a Bass Fly, or perhaps both.

Here is the version replicated from the recipe of Trout:

Fitzmaurice wet fly, recipe from Trout by Ray Bergman.

Fitzmaurice wet fly, recipe from Trout by Ray Bergman.

Fitzmaurice, Trout version:

Tag: Oval gold tinsel – the addition of the tinsel tag is mine, note the flat gold tinsel tag on the Orvis version

Tail: Peacock sword fibers

Butt: Black chenille

Body: Red chenille

Wing: Bronze mallard

Hackle: Yellow

Head: Black

Following is my photo of the Fitz-Maurice from the 1893 Orvis Display:

Fitz-Maurice

Fitz-Maurice from 1893 Orvis Display, hook size is approximately a #1/0. The Lake Flies were traditionally tied in sizes this large, as were the Bass Flies.

Fitz-Maurice – Orvis Dressing:

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Tail: Peacock sword fibers

Body: Rear 1/2 red chenille, front 1/2 black chenille

Hackle: Golden yellow, wound full over front 1/5 of hook shank

Wing: Gray mallard, two whole feathers; this could be classed as a spoon wing. The stems were tied reverse-wing.

This pattern has a gut loop eye, often referred to back in the day as a snood. The chenille is very dense, most likely a fine grade of silk chenille. The Fitz-Maurice is not listed in Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, but as you can see it is on the 1893 Orvis Display, and it will be among more than 200 additional 19th century fly patterns, beyond the 291 in Marbury’s book, that will be listed by name with the accurate recipe, determined by visual inspection of actual flies, and from study of my collection of fly photos, in my upcoming book in progress, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892. The additional fly patterns from the 1893 display include flies in all categories of Marbury’s book: Hackles, Lake Flies, Trout Flies, Salmon Flies, and Bass Flies.

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.

Great Blue Heron Rookery

While in Vermont in mid-June, visiting the Wantastiquet Lake Trout Club near Weston, and the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester for work and research on my current book The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury, I passed this great blue heron rookery along Rt. 20 between Bennington and Manchester. On June 11th on my way there, I saw it but did not stop. On my return on the evening of June 13th I did stop and took some photos.

Great Blue Heron Rookery. These heron nests all have young in them.

There were eight nests, and I counted 13 adults that I could see, though I think some may have been out fishing. I did note one adult wading about 100 yards from the rookery. I stopped my car, crossed the highway, rested my camera on the guardrails, set the telephoto at 2x, zoomed out to 24x, and took these images.

Another nest, one adult is on limb at lower left of tree trunk.

Two great blue herons just hanging out in their ‘hood.

I have always enjoyed seeing great blue herons. Even though they are hell on fish, which sometimes includes trout. I once found a nineteen-inch brown on Pennsylvania’s Letort Spring Run, foundering on its side in two inches of water on a mud flat. I inspected it, seeing no damage or injury at first and thought perhaps it was dying of old age. Then I flipped it over and saw a deep gash on its right gill plate. Then the fact that three great blue herons had flushed from that area when I rounded the bend 100 yards downstream fifteen minutes earlier revealed the truth of what had happened. The trout was surely dead already, doomed by the infliction of having been mortally speared, yet still quivering as its life ebbed away. I thought briefly about keeping that trout; I mean I didn’t want it to go to waste and at that time I couldn’t think of a better use for that trout. I can only imagine how good a wild brown from the Letort would have tasted, stream-bred, cress-bug and scud-fed, but it’s strictly a no-kill area. So I left him there; eventually the herons or a mink or raccoon surely found it. That was over 25 years ago.

I read a bit on Wikipedia on herons; typically they nest in rookeries, more specifically called a heronry, and commonly there can be over one-hundred nests in a heronry. I have only ever seen a handful of heron nest sites; the largest may have had twenty or so nests. They swallow their food whole, and one of them could have gulped that nineteen-inch trout without difficulty, but it is noted that occasionally great blue herons choke on food too large to swallow.

I learned of a local name for herons – “swamp chicken” while in Canada back in the 1990’s. This phrase usually included an expletive or two. The trout clubs in southern Ontario don’t like great blue herons. Some of their feathers were historically used for fly tying, most notably on spey flies. But I also discovered from personal inspection that there is occasional use of great blue heron wing quill slips for wings on some of the flies from the 1800’s in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, and also on the actual fly plates from Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories. One pattern in particular, judging by the color plate painting, appears to have a two-color wing. This is The Hart Lake Fly on Plate G. In J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book Flies, he lists the wing recipe for the Hart Fly as “black, teal green over.” This is incorrect, and by a long-shot miss. I doubt that it was a pattern variation either. The wing of The Hart Fly is actually great blue heron, taken from sections of paired wing quills. And I know this without doubt because I had the privilege of holding the 120-year old Plate G (with white gloves) in my hands on June 13th, visually inspected the flies, and also photographed it, along with the 32 original Marbury fly plates, will be published in my book. I have also held heron feathers in my hands; I found a shed once along a stream while fishing. It has a lighter dun-gray color than the darker slate of a Canada goose, and possesses a unique shade of steely-blue-gray, sort of a battleship gray color. The closest thing I have ever seen to the (heron) wing on the Hart Fly was the medium blue-dun dyed wing quills that used to be sold by E. Hille in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Favorite Flies and Their Histories records this information on the Hart:

“No. 48. The Hart is a combination of colors almost unknown among artificial flies, but one that is very beautiful in this fly, which was sent to us by Mr. George Hart of Waterbury, Conn, after whom it was named. In his letter inclosing this fly he wrote us that it had proved one of their best flies in their late expedition to the Maine woods, where he and a party of friends have recorded some phenomenal catches.”

At home, I have recently downloaded all the Orvis fly plate images I photographed from Marbury’s book. Twenty-four out of the thirty-two original plates were out on loan, so I will be returning to the museum to finish photographing the eight remaining plates. Besides filing the original plate images, I have edited and cropped each plate, making macro images of each individual fly. I also photographed The Hart Fly on the 1893 Orvis Display in the museum that Mary Orvis Marbury created for the Chicago World’s Fair. The wing material on both Orvis patterns of the Hart Fly is the same. I love Leonard’s book, but the more research and study I do comparing my visual inspection notes and photos of the actual Orvis patterns in Marbury’s book to the dressings listed in Leonard’s book, I can only conclude with all due respect that he probably made his best guess as to what the materials were on the flies in Marbury’s book by studying the color plate paintings of the patterns. There were no written recipes for the patterns in Marbury’s book. I can understand how this would happen. For example, the Fiery Brown on Plate F in Marbury’s book, according to the painting appears to have a three-color married wing, of a light brown, cinnamon, and slate. Turns out this is “shading” recorded by the artist who painted the original fly. The actual wing on the Fiery Brown is one solid color, a dark-cinnamon, fiery-brown as you might expect. Leonard recorded “brown hen” for the wing on the Fiery Brown, which is also a bit misleading. Of course heron feathers can not legally be used for fly tying.

My friend Truman recently bought a gift for me at a used book store; four copies of The American Fly Fisher, the quarterly publication of the American Museum of Fly Fishing. One of them was the Winter 1998 issue, and he bought it specifically because it contained an article by John Betts of Colorado, noted angling historian, and features the Fancy Lake and Bass Flies in Marbury’s book. About ten of the original plates were photographed and appear in that article. Mr. Betts had some very interesting things to say about the r3verse-winging methods used at the time. I plan to write a review of this article and post some of the photos.

After this slight digression, which is sometimes important to tell the complete story of the subject at hand, or at least makes it more interesting, I conclude with one more heron photo.

Great blue heron eating snapping turtle. Photo by John Harrison from Wikimedia, used by permission. I have been told that the stomach acids of herons are very potent; that would allow for the digestion of the shell and other elements of their diet such as bones, and crab and crayfish shells. In addition to fish, herons will eat frogs, young birds, salamanders, and rodents. And young snapping turtles. The little snapper was probably thinking, “Oh, crap. I’m toast.”