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.
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)
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.