Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892

This is the title of my upcoming book, the one that was originally announced here on my blog in November 2011. It was then shared by Fly Tyer Magazine Forum Moderator, David MacConnell, or “D Mac” as he was known. David and I had become friends, and he was frequently sharing my blog posts about streamers to the Fly Tyer Forums page. But he sadly passed away in October of 2013. Here is a link to that book announcement:

http://forums.flytyer.com/forum/36-books-videos/15322-new-book-announcement-from-don-bastian#15322

I will write more below on the book, to update a few things, and the contributing tiers list has changed. Several of the names on the 2011 Fly Tyer Forum list are no longer contributors, and new ones have been added.

The original title was “The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury” but that was changed after a year to “Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892.” The reason I did that was because I felt my original title gave too much credit to Marbury, and folks might get the idea, as they clearly have with the phrase, “Ray Bergman wet flies,” that she originated these flies. That is not the case in either instance. I get questions about “Bergman wet flies,” or I read the phrase, “Bergman-style wet flies,” and there is really nothing to that, other than the fact that his book “Trout” – 1938, presented the largest collection of illustrated fishing flies that had ever been published, four-hundred forty wet flies in all. Bergman was modest as a fly tying teacher, and his section on tying wet flies in his book takes up barely three pages. He tied in the popular style of the time. The illustrations indicate that he used “closed wing style” as did nearly all the flies on Marbury’s book, but that he tied tip-up, whereas the patterns in Marbury’s book are nearly all tied tip-down. Bergman tied and fished popular wet flies and personal favorites. As far as “Bergman original wet fly patterns” there is only one wet fly pattern he originated, out of the nearly 500 different patterns that were mentioned in his three books and the second edition of “Trout,” 1952,  and that is the Quebec. Bergman originated nearly thirty dry fly patterns; fishing on top was his favorite method.

“Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892” will be a book containing individual photos of reproductions of all 292 flies from Mary Orvis Marbury’s book, “Favorite Flies and Their Histories,” 1892. These flies are tied by myself and twenty-some contributing tiers from the United States and Canada. Most of you know that my book project had been delayed for various reasons, but it is certainly not dead. Lack of support and zero response from the publisher for over a year-and-a-half is the reason. On the other hand, the delay has had the exceptional benefit in that I have been able to obtain valuable information on the actual tying procedures for these historic, classic flies of our fly fishing heritage. There will be step-by-step photos and tying instructions for all of the classifications of these flies except Salmon Flies. I am not qualified, nor is there a need to write any “how-to” on a topic where a plethora of information already exists. I have also been discovering additional patterns that will be included. I am including additional patterns on the 1893 Orvis Display from the Museum that are not in Marbury’s book.

I am in negotiations with a new publisher, and I will say more than one publisher is being considered. As soon as this is finalized I will let everyone know.

These old flies were made with silk and cotton thread, using the “reverse-wing” method to secure the wing to the hook. This also accounts for the “fat bodies” on the large Lake Flies, Bass Flies, and bigger trout flies. This was the result of the butt ends of the wings being lashed to the hook shank at the start of the fly construction, and then wrapped over with the thread and body materials as the fly was completed.

At the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, New Jersey, over this past weekend, I had a conversation with Catherine Comar, the Executive Director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. I visited the Museum two times in 2012 and again in 2013 to photograph the original fly plates from which the paintings were made to present artist renderings in Marbury’s book as colorful lithographs. I had some concerns about how this would come about, since I have photos of each fly plate, save for Plate Z which no longer is part of the collection. This will be the real gem of my book: my conversation with Catherine worked out a how full page photographs of all 31 of the 120-plus years old flies that were published in Marbury’s book, the lion’s share of which were never given recipes for, will be included in my book.

J. Edson Leonard, in his fine book, “Flies” 1950, made an effort to present the pattern recipes. But since I have seen, personally inspected, photographed, and studied both the original flies and the macro images I made from each plate of every single fly from the  original plates from which the Marbury book flies were made, I have discovered that many of the components previously published in both “Flies” and “Forgotten Flies” are incorrect. These material errors run from one to as many as six different items on one fly! My close scrutiny of these patterns will present a high degree of material component accuracy. I am very modest as a rule, but I will state that I am excited about publishing the exact recipes for these historic flies. I will make every effort through my editing process to ascertain the details and hopefully have few errors in the finished product. I am also excited about the fact that my book will contain fly patterns from the 1893 Orvis Display that have never been published anywhere, not that I can find.

Now regarding that post on the Fly Tyer Forum from 2011, I already described the title change and my reasons for doing so. Additionally, these tiers named there are no longer contributors: Dave Benoit, Mike Martinek, Jr., Stanley Miller, and Sharon Wright. Since then I have added John Hoffmann from Ontario, and Peggy Brenner from New Hampshire. This article and comments have been edited on February 2nd, and all I will say is the “As The World Turns” elements of the article and comments have been removed. Recent developments have made this choice very easy, besides being the right and gentlemanly thing to do.

I still need to photograph the flies from my contributors, I have a few flies to tie myself, and a couple chapters to write. Once at the publishers, “Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892” will not be far off.

Thank you all for your support and understanding.

Classic Wet Fly Display – 483 Flies

Last Saturday I returned to Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, with my girlfriend, Mary Fortin. I wanted to show her the ten-frame set of classic wet flies that the owners purchased from me at the Fly Fishing Show in College Park, Maryland, in January of 2002. Tower Oaks opened in the fall of that year. We also coordinated our trip to visit a dear friend who is having health problems.

Since it has been twelve years since this collection of framed flies was placed on display, and considering that the last time I was there was in 2005, I was curious to see how they are holding up. From time to time I have friends and customers tell me they have seen the display, and they always have complimentary remarks. The wet fly collection from Ray Bergman’s book, Trout, was something I vowed I was one day going to do. This was back in 1974, and resulted when I tied my first-ever Parmacheene Belle, and mounted it in a frame for my dad’s birthday. I made this commitment to myself: “Someday I’m going to tie and frame all those flies.” That goal was a dream come true; first in replicating the entire collection of color plate wet flies for the book, Forgotten Flies, 2000, and then for Clyde’s Restaurant Group. Subsequently I have replicated this entire set two additional times for private collectors. The display at Tower Oaks is, as far as I know, the only location in the entire United States where the wet fly color plates from Ray Bergman’s 1938 book, Trout, have been reproduced and are on permanent display. Trout is the only fishing book ever written to remain continuously in print for more than fifty years, and is the most-published in that genre as well, having sold more than 250,000 copies in all its volumes and editions.

There are ten frames in the set; all flies are reproduced exactly in the order and number of the artist’s rendition, and according to the pattern recipes listed in the back of the book. The paintings were done by Dr. Edgar Burke, a close friend of Ray Bergman.

An accurate and historically correct reproduction of Henry P. Wells famous Parmacheene Belle. He originated the fly in 1876, naming it after Lake Parmacheene in Maine's Rangeley Lakes Region. This dressing is given by Wells in the 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly by Charles F. Orvis and A. Nelson Cheney.

An accurate and historically correct reproduction of Henry P. Wells famous Parmacheene Belle. He originated the fly in 1876, naming it after Lake Parmacheene in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes Region. This dressing is given by Wells in the 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly by Charles F. Orvis and A. Nelson Cheney.

The Parmacheene Belle above was tied in traditional blind eye style, with a snelled double leader; a “bite-guard,” doubled at the head, as they were sometimes called. The wings are also tied in traditional reversed style. You can see the but ends of the wings which were tied in facing forward, then pulled back over. This makes for a garish-looking and large head, but it served its purpose in the durability department. The original body is yellow mohair, the original tag is peacock herl. This fly is dressed exactly to the originators specifications. It is curious that the Orvis / Marbury version of this fly was changed to a wing of half red and white, using ostrich herl for the butt. Various pattern component alterations have transpired over the decades, but this dressing is the correct one as put forth by the creator of the pattern. I digressed a bit to add some background on the interest of classic wet flies and their history.

In examining the frames, I noticed that as a result of routine cleaning, the finish is beginning to wear on the frames, especially along the top edge. The corners of the frames and the edges are showing a nice aura of natural aging, taking on an antique appearance, giving them a natural patina that matches more appropriately compared to the age of the flies contained within. Neither Mary nor I had a camera along, so there will be no actual photos. Not this time. But we plan to go back.

Below are a series of wet flies that are framed, using my original method of wire-mounting the flies to the mat board. It is virtually invisible in the display and my frames, making the flies appear suspended and uncluttered by pins, wire, cork pegs, and certainly no cement of any kind is used.

Hopatcong - #6. This pattern was mentioned in Mary Orvis Marbury's book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, so it is well over one-hundred years old. She indicated that she would like to have included it among the Lake Flies.

Hopatcong – #6. This pattern was mentioned in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, so it is well over one-hundred years old. She indicated that she would like to have included it among the Lake Flies.

Pope - #6.

Pope – #6.

Logan - #6; another old pattern.

Logan – #6; another old pattern.

Romeyn - #6. Illustrated in Marbury's book, and also included as a Lake Fly in the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

Romeyn – #6. Illustrated in Marbury’s book, and also included as a Lake Fly in the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

Victoria - #6; the green variation. There is also a Victoria with a dark blue body.

Victoria – #6; the green variation. There is also a Victoria with a dark blue body.

The wire I use to mount the flies...

The wire I use to mount the flies…

...and the view of a Red Hackle Peacock showing the wire mounted to the hook shank. The short 5/8" to 3/4" long section is bent 90 degrees and lashed - tightly - to the shank. It is inserted after the tag, ribbing and floss is attached, while winding forward to the head. It can be bent down to place wings and throats for inch wraps, then stood out to mount. A bobbin is used to make the hole in the mat, then the wire is inserted, the fly positioned just off the surface of the mat board, and then taped down in the back with acid-free archival cloth tape.

…and the view of a Red Hackle Peacock showing the wire mounted to the hook shank. The short 5/8″ to 3/4″ long section is bent 90 degrees and lashed – tightly – to the shank. It is inserted after the tag, ribbing and floss is attached, while winding forward to the head. It can be bent down to place wings and throats for inch wraps, then stood out to mount. A bobbin is used to make the hole in the mat, then the wire is inserted, the fly positioned just off the surface of the mat board, and then taped down in the back with acid-free archival cloth tape.

Mounting area of Plate No. 3 from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman.

Display area of frame; Plate No. 3, Wet Flies, from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman. This photo is from the third set of these flies that I completed. These are available for purchase on MyFlies.com, or by contacting me personally. Available as a complete set or as individual Color Plate reproductions, and also, custom selected patterns are available.

Here is the MyFlies.com link where images of all ten frames can be viewed.

http://www.myflies.com/Ray-Bergmans-emTroutem-Wet-Fly-Series–P592.aspx

Here is the link to Tower Oaks Lodge: http://www.clydes.com/tower

If you are ever in the metro Washington, DC, area or traveling in central Maryland, this place is worth a visit. The website presents information on the decor, which is exclusive. It is like a museum – the Adirondack Lodge area with the fishing displays,art, and artifacts; the Chesapeake Bay duck hunting section with antique decoys, boats, boats, and more boats, decoy baskets, full of original duck and goose decoys, and at least ten double-barrel shotguns; and the “Horses and Hounds” section, devoted to the racing and fox hunting traditions of estates in Hunt Valley Maryland. And the food, service, and ambiance is excellent. Five Stars!

Parmacheene Belle – Antique Replica

Some of my readers have heard me say that I don’t have a “favorite” classic wet pattern, which is true; it’s so hard to pick only one from the hundreds of possibilities. But considering I first tied the Parmacheene Belle forty years ago in 1974, and the fact that it was also my first-ever married wing wet fly, it has remained at the top of a list of my favorite wet flies. I enjoy tying them; I’ve probably tied more than five hundred of them over the years,  and I also love looking at any well-tied Parmacheene Belle. The fly has a great combination of color – selection, arrangement, and balance, as well as material choice, and the best part: It catches fish! It was a successful fly back in 1876 when Henry P. Wells first created the pattern and named it for Lake Parmacheene in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes Region. Back then it was still possible to catch brook trout in the Rangeley Lakes that exceeded eight pounds in weight. The “Belle” also proved an effective fly for landlocked salmon as well. Well over one-hundred thirty years later, my fly fishing relatives, my friends, a number of my customers, and me, have all caught trout on this fly in waters scattered across the country. I have customers every year who order some to fish with. Successful catches of fish on the Parmacheene Belle also includes the unexpected bonus of brown and rainbow trout. I’ve even heard tell of anglers out west catching cutthroat trout on them as well. Hairwing versions of this fly were among some early 20th century steelhead patterns; in fact Plate No. 11 in Bergman’s Trout presents a hairwing version of the Parmacheene Belle.

I have written a number of posts on this fly during the last four years since I started my blog, and if you care to research them, simply use the search tab, type in “Parmacheene Belle,” hit the enter key and off you go! It will bring up every article that is titled or even mentions this fly. I did a married-wing streamer version of this about three years ago.

My introduction to this pattern came through Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman. It was a favorite pattern of his for catching large brook trout. In fact, in With Fly, Plug and Bait, 1947, Ray describes an occasion when he caught a large brook trout in Canada using a tandem wet fly rig consisting of two Parmacheene Belle wet flies, I believe they were both size #4. These flies were close together, much like a miniature tandem streamer.

The research for my ongoing book project, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892, led me to the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester, Vermont, where the actual fly plates used in Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, are stored and occasionally placed on display. I had the privilege of gaining access to and viewing, studying, and photographing these historic fly plates. My work with them allowed me to ascertain many previously misidentified components of these patterns. This includes the tying recipes listed in every known publication that has claimed to represent these old wet fly patterns that were at one time cataloged by the Orvis Company. The problem was that Mary did not include the fly dressings for the patterns in her book. My research also led to to the 1883 book written by Charles F. Orvis and Albert Nelson Cheney, called Fishing With the Fly. In that book, there is a chapter called Fly Fishing in the Rangeley Region by Henry P. Wells, the originator of the Parmacheene Belle. In his chapter he presents the complete (almost- see below) original dressing for his pattern. I found it odd that the Orvis version did not feature the original white-with-red-stripe married wing that he specified, but rather, a simpler wing of married red and white in equal parts. Subsequent variations of this pattern developed over time, some no doubt modified to make them easier to tie commercially, and others as a result of unknown reasons.

A friend provided actual, custom-dyed mohair dubbing that I could use for the body, as specified by the originator. This mohair dubbing is available on John McClain’s website: www.feathersmc.com

I also started tying and teaching the reverse-wing method that was widely used in the 19th century for mounting wings on practically all fishing flies. My reasoning for this is that the threads in use for fly tying at the time were made of either cotton or silk and lacked the tensile strength of modern threads. Therefore, to prevent wings pulling out of the flies, someone developed the method of mounting the wings to be tied in, backwards, with the butt ends facing to the rear, wrapped in place, then the forward portion of the feathers were folded over to make the wing of the fly, and a band of thread, resembling a collar, was wound in place over the folded butt end of the wings to provide the final stage of secure the feathers to the hook. This caused the heads of the fly to be large, bulky, and rather unattractive, but nonetheless, completely functional. This method also calls for longer sections of wing quills to complete the process; goose wings quills are my preference, and one must be careful regarding the proportions so that the finished, folded-back wing is properly sized to the hook.

This method also gave the flies of the day their characteristic high wing angle. My personal feeling is that too many tiers today attempt to replicate these historic flies, and they too often use the widely available goose shoulders for the wings. This material looks fine, depending on your point of view, but goose shoulder was used mostly to make “splits” or side-sections on wings to add extra colors to a pattern, and was not used on wings, according to the hundreds of antique flies that I have seen and studied. Goose shoulder was used to make wings and sometimes tails on the old lake, bass, and trout flies. Flies made like this today are perfectly acceptable in that they look fine, they display well, especially to an untrained eye, and they will catch fish, but with the inherent low, sleek-looking wing that goose shoulder renders, they are not historically accurate. I’m talking about the original patterns, not just following or substituting ingredients and then lashing them willy-nilly to the hook. I believe the accurate reproduction of these historic flies is important, and is something that should not be forgotten. Like our society and culture in general, even in fly tying, at times it seems like there is too much of an “anything goes” attitude.

Following that slight but pertinent digression, I present a historically accurate reproduction of the famous the Parmacheene Belle:

Parmacheene Belle, 2/0.

Parmacheene Belle, 2/0. The authentic silk gut leader is doubled at the head of the fly, creating what was known as a “helper” or bite guard. This was either whipped with thread and varnished, or knotted an inch or so ahead of the head of the fly, and then another loop was made on the leader to provide a snelled loop-to-loop connection. The bite guard was thought to strengthen the leader and prevent the fish from breaking off the fly at this critical joint in the connection. This specimen also features the traditional closed-wing, tip-down mounting of the quills that was most popular at the time. Red was often used as a finishing thread on old flies.

Here is Henry Wells’ written narration of his recipe description for the Parmacheene Belle, taken from the text of his chapter in Fishing With the Fly:

“This fly somewhat resembles the No Name figured as No. 15 of Lake Flies in this book. As I tie it, the tail is two strands of white and two of scarlet; the body of yellow mohair, with silver tinsel; the hackle double; first white, with scarlet hackle wound over this – capping the former, so to speak; the wing white, striped with scarlet. By scarlet, the color of the scarlet ibis is to be understood.”

Wells does not mention the tag or butt components, but these ingredients, determined by my visible inspection of the 1893 Orvis Fly Display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing, are silver tinsel and peacock herl. Cosmetically speaking, especially considering the head, this is not representative of my “cleanest, most tidy” work. But that is not the intent with this article. My desire was to accurately replicate an actual 19th century Parmacheene Belle Lake Fly, as if you went back in time. I believe this is right on to what you would find in 19th century fishing fly store bins. The 2/0 hook was not outlandishly large for a brook trout upwards of five pounds.

My friend, Roger Plourde, has vintage silk gut for sale in various sizes, the price is $15.00. His e-mail is:  rplourde01@comcast.net

I decided to include and re-post the photo of my Parmacheene Belle Streamer as well:

Parmacheene Belle Streamer

Parmacheene Belle Streamer, dressed on a 4x long hook. This older version features a yellow-dubbed body, rabbit fur. This fly illustrates is a little more “polished” representation of my fly tying.

Some of you might have noted a recent reduction in my posts here over the last few months. The reason for that is that I have been extremely busy since mid-November. I’ve added a couple new and significant and fun things to my life, one of which is drumming. I resurrected my musical ability and involvement after years  of inactivity. My rock band disbanded in 1979, and other than an occasional performance in church or at a theater musical, I haven’t played in years. My late wife, Lou Anne, and I sang in a gospel quartet for twenty-seven years, and I have not sung anywhere since our last performance in August of 2006. She passed seven years ago this month.

I started off as a substitute drummer in a local classic rock band for a New Year’s Eve gig. Considering my schedule of two November fly tying shows, Thanksgiving, deer season, and Christmas, I ended up having to learn over sixty songs in two weeks. In early February, my drumming with the Pepper Street Band suddenly became a full-time position due to the fact their regular drummer has developed a serious health issue that has side-lined him for a while.

Right after New Year’s Day I also committed to joining the contemporary praise and worship band, Firstborn, at Pine Street United Methodist Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where I have the added musical experience and fun of playing an electronic drum set. I also started singing again, mostly regular visits with friends to karaoke bars where I sing anything from George Thorogood to Toby Keith to Trace Adkins, ZZ Top, Billy Joel, Georgia Satellites, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, even Frank Sinatra. I’m also the newest member of Cornerstone, the contemporary choir at Pine Street church as well. Firstborn performs every Sunday at the 8:30 service, and Cornerstone sings at the same service twice a month. Plus, I sing the lead vocals on a half-dozen of the songs on the Pepper Street playlist. Here’s a link to their song list: http://www.pepperstreetband.com/song_list%20II.html

Don’t worry folks, I’m not giving up my fly tying career! Just suddenly having a lot more fun! I thank God for my renewed good health! I also found out the best thing to do with negative, toxic, trash-talking people who try to mess with or mess up your life is to forget them and not address them in any way. That’s healthy too! Besides, it is impossible to reason with people who habitually spread rumors and prevaricate the truth about someone else for their own, selfish interests and perceived personal gain. You know what they say:”What goes around comes around.”

I’ve gotten more active on facebook; my band gigs and schedule is generally posted there, along with a link from my blog as well. Anyone interested in following my more personal and / or musical activity, just let me know, besides a friend request, please include a PM.

Thank you all for your many years of support! I am personally grateful to each of you for your belief in me and what I do. Me? I’m having too much fun, doing what I’ve always done, and going back to my musical roots. I was singing and playing drums before I ever started tying flies. Adding the music and meeting so many new people who are nice, decent folk, has already brought new friends into my life. I have a feeling this is only going to get better!

Cracker Bass Fly

My lack of presence here on my blog over the last couple months was previously explained in a couple recent posts. Since deer season ended on December 14th I have been home, but I was especially busy; spending most of my time learning the drum parts for a list of almost sixty songs in preparation for my drumming gig on New Year’s Eve with the Pepper Street Band. That all went very well, the band members were pleased by my time spent learning their music, and they all told me I did a great job. It was a BLAST! That was the first full band gig I played in thirty-four-and-a-half years. I hope to do that more often. I will say, that yesterday and even today, the muscles in my fingers, wrists, and forearms are showing a little soreness from the exercise I got drumming. And my right leg too, from working the bass drum pedal. It’s a good kind of pain! It is a wonderful feeling to revive my music playing ability, which I regret to have kept dormant for so long. In the coming months and years, I hope to continue both my fly tying, fishing, and music interests, since they are primarily my main hobby interests in life.

To start off 2014, I wanted to post the beautiful fly tying and photographic work of a friend, Royce Stearns, who is also one of the contributing tiers to my book, Favorite Fishing Flies: 1892, a work still in progress. This is the Cracker, from Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury. Royce and I were in a bit of an e-mail exchange before Christmas; he wanted to know what my book research turned up for the blue body on the Cracker. I also discovered, not surprisingly, since it seems to be a recurring theme, a few other differences in previously published pattern recipe components when comparing my photographs of the actual book plate flies and my personal examination of the flies and my macro photos. The Cracker was included among the plates of Bass Flies in Marbury’s book, but according to its originator, George Trowbridge, of New York, New York, “It (the Cracker) has caught every variety of fish which rises to the fly, when it has been cast over the waters that these fish inhabit.”

J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies, states the body on the Cracker is blue floss. Forgotten Flies, 1999, calls for a body of deep blue dubbing. Neither is correct, though some would say those are “pattern variations.” Which is true, but only to a certain extent. Any writer can alter one ingredient of a fly, publish it as “correct” and if that happens a couple times with different authors, then guess where that might lead? Both books call for married black and white goose in the wing. Another “difference.” The actual black and white in the wing is neither of those feathers, but rather is white-tipped turkey. That can even be recognized in the book plate fly through scrutiny of the wing. Here’s another tidbit of pattern recipe information, from the originator’s words in Marbury’s book: “It is purposely overdressed. The mohair of the body should be picked out to make the fly.” Ah ha! Mohair body! And this in the words of the pattern originator. So that component has been positively identified. I have a sneaking suspicion that Leonard studied the play fly images from Marbury’s book when he recorded their pattern recipes in Flies, and made his best guess as to what they were. If one is recording fly pattern recipes for posterity, then they should be correct, or at least as close as possible to what the originator intended. That is my belief. I’m not really knocking the excellent work of writers that went before me, because overall, Flies is a great book and a valuable resource and fly tying reference. Forgotten Flies is a one-of-a-kind volume. It’s just that I’m detail-oriented to determining the exact pattern components of the 120-year-old flies from Marbury’s book, considering up to this point time, that has not been done for every fly in her book. On to the Cracker:

The Cracker

The Cracker, dressed and photographed by Royce Stearns.

Cracker

Tag:                 Flat gold tinsel and yellow wool

Tail:                 Peacock sword, blue, red, yellow, and gray mallard, mixed

Ribbing:          Flat silver tinsel

Body:               Medium blue mohair, well picked out (seal fur could also be used)

Wing:              Red, yellow, blue, and white-tipped turkey, with shorter sections of peacock sword

Hackle:           Orange

Head:             Black or dark gray thread

There are slight differences between the pattern recipe and the fly tied by Royce, but the recipe was determined by my close study of the actual 120-year-old plate fly. There is no gray mallard visible on the tail of the book plate fly, but the pattern used for the book has the gray mallard on it. Artist omission? Possible. See; anytime information is passed along from one source to another, there is the risk of errors. I’m not perfect, but I hope to minimize mistakes and get these flies right.

Here are a few more notes about the Cracker – the kinds of fish taken on it as recorded by Mr. Trowbridge: Tarpon, channel bass, sea trout, cavaille` (Jack Crevalle), rovaille` (don’t know what that is), bluefish, Spanish mackerel, grouper, mangrove snapper (redfish), skip-jack, sheepshead, sailor’s choice (no idea what that is), and another nondescript fish. It is interesting for a “Bass Fly” that it was not known by Mr. Trowbridge to ever be tried for black bass at the time of his letter to Mary Orvis Marbury, but it was successful in the North for salmon, and trout in Maine, the Adirondacks and Canada. Hook sizes preferred by the originator ranged from No. 8 “for small brook trout in Maine, ‘Kennebago size’ as they say there. No. 3 is about right for trout from 3/4 lb. to 1-1/2 lb. No. 1 is what I use for the largest channel bass. It is a good size for trout from 1 to 3 lbs. in Canada. If trout are expected to run larger than that, I prefer a larger fly.”

This pattern has been a sleeper for many years, and while it is a complex fly to tie, I believe it would be worth it to experiment for some of the fish mentioned in Mr. Trowbridge’s letter. Thank you Royce, for sending me the photo and for allowing me to post your fine work!

International Fly Tying Symposium This Weekend

The International Fly Tying Symposium will be held this weekend in Somerset, New Jersey, at the Garden State Exhibit Center. The show hotel is the nearby Doubletree.

Here is a link containing information to the Fly Tying Symposium: http://www.internationalflytyingsymposium.com/

I am displaying and demonstrating at the Symposium this weekend, concentrating on the tying and teaching of Rangeley style streamers, featuring some patterns of Carrie Stevens; classic wet flies, both 19th and 20th century versions – four styles of mounting wet fly wings, and also some blind-eye 19th century patterns, particularly a few of the large fancy Lake and Bass flies. I’ve been tying primarily at shows lately on Mustad #4 and #2 wet fly hooks. Be sure to ask about my “new,” to me, and you too, probably, and greatly improved over all others, wet fly wing mounting method, thanks to my friend Dave Lomasney of York, Maine. I also promised to my readers to demo my method for mounting duck breast feathers for fan wing dry fly patterns. If anyone is interested I can tie a Fan Wing Royal Coachman start to finish.

I’m excited to present (for me anyway, and probably other tiers too), for the first time in public, the historically correct pattern version, every component correct according to originator Henry Wells, of the Parmacheene Belle, famous Maine Lake Fly dating to the year of its origin, approximately 1876. The complete accurate recipe for this fly was recorded in Wells’ chapter titled Fly Fishing the Rangeley Lakes Region in C. F. Orvis and A. N. Cheney’s 1883 book, Fishing With the Fly. Maybe it’s not significant to some, but I finally got hold of some yellow mohair dubbing, which is the original body material, and the color closely matches my photos of one-hundred-twenty year old Parmacheene Belles taken from the Orvis collection at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. I have a #1/0 bronze hook Parmacheene Belle tied on a gut snell with a bite guard. Stop by and check it out! It is interesting that the Orvis version of Wells’ famous pattern was created with a married half-red, half-white wing, not the original white-with-red-stripe married wing. Perhaps they developed an easier-to-tie commercial version.

Another author got Well’s mohair body incorrect in a 1950 book by calling for a yellow palmered hackle on a yellow wool or floss body. He likely relied on the painted image in Marbury’s book for his interpretation, because the original mounted fly patterns from her book were not discovered until the 1970’s in the old Orvis fly tying barn in Manchester, Vermont. The fish more likely than not probably don’t care, but I believe strongly in ascertaining historic fly pattern ingredient correctness, whenever possible. My photo of the original Plate Fly of No. 60, the Parmacheene Belle from Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury, will be available on my table through the wonders of a lap-top computer, which will be running an on-going slide show of more than two hundred images of the actual plate flies from Marbury’s book.

Parmacheene Belle, from the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

Parmacheene Belle, Lake Fly from the 1893 Orvis Display at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. I have posted this image previously, but I felt its inclusion here would enhance this post. Note the red and white wing, not Well’s original white wing with red stripe.

Below is an image of the cousin to the Parmacheene Belle, the Parmacheene Beau, which according to Marbury, Henry Wells had nothing to do with. It is surprising that the Parmacheene Beau is included on the Orvis Display, considering her rather derogatory remarks about “the Beau” in her book.

Parmacheene Beau,

Parmacheene Beau, Lake Fly, from the 1893 Orvis Display. Note the scarlet “split” or stripe. The mohair body is more noticeable here, and the tinsel tag is visible; it is there on the Parmacheene Belle, but not visible due to poor lighting. Both these hooks are large, No. 1, 1/0, possibly 2/0.

I’m also on the Saturday evening banquet program, for a short, humorous, musical presentation. Hope to see new and old friends this weekend! Tight threads everyone!

Mustang Sally

I have been wanting to notify everyone of a situation affecting my blog. I mentioned a while back that I was having some technical, electronic problem with my camera. It was still working, but the selective shutter and exposure options were somehow compromised and worked intermittently at best. I was, at times, stirred up enough to be tempted to perform some percussive maintenance on it, you know, whack it with a hammer to “get it going again.” Sometimes that works, like in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo whams his fist against a bulkhead in the Millenium Falcon, which gets the engines going after a faltering start.

Early last week I completed an order of a half dozen #4 Cheney Bass Flies and a half dozen #6 and #8 Puffer Trout Flies. Both of these flies are historic patterns dating from the 1800’s. The customer happens to own an antique brass-faced Hardy Perfect reel with A. N. Cheney’s name engraved on it, hence his interest in these two particular patterns. The accounts of Cheney’s connections to these flies is recorded in Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury, pp. 349-350, and 402. Eventually I’ll do that post, combining photos of these patterns along with Cheney’s old Hardy reel owned by my customer. In the meantime I’m ordering a new camera.

Here is what happened to throw a wrench in the works: When I was getting ready to photograph the flies, I placed my Canon G9 camera on the edge of a TV tray (that’s my high-tech studio set-up photo image platform), and walked away. THUD! I turned around and the camera was on the hardwood floor. I picked it up and set it back on the TV tray, really thinking nothing of it. I mean, it only fell a little over two feet. Then I went about doing something else for a few minutes. When I turned the camera on, the lens extended, but I had no image on the view screen. Then it beeped like never before, next I got this message on the screen: “Lens error. Restart camera.” Which I did. Multiple times, to no avail. The lens would not retract when I turned it on and off. I took the battery in and out a few times. I even tried a little percussive maintenance to get it going again, to no avail. So apparently my camera is history.

Mustang Sally – a great song written and recorded in 1965 by Mack Rice. Course, we all know Mustang Sally gained greater popularity in 1966 in the single release by Wilson Pickett and on his album, The Wicked Pickett. Besides being a fly tier, I’m also a musician and I’m into music trivia. Here’s more interesting info from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustang_Sally_%28song%29

Here is a great black and white, 1960’s TV video version of Wilson Pickett performing Mustang Sally live:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfuHgzu1Cjg

It’s authentic and live alright, one of the horns is occasionally a tad out of tune, and there’s even a short trumpet mistake note at the end. Why Mustang Sally? Well, I wanted to write something to let everyone know why there has not been any new photo posts here recently, and why there won’t be for a little while longer yet. Though I do have some archived photos. Now I get to the point.

Combining the recent post about my renewed interest in playing and upgrading my drum set; I went to a local bar last Sunday evening, called The Crippled Bear. They have a covered outdoor pavilion and have bands every Sunday night, all summer long, until the end of September. A local classic rock band called Flipside was playing. I had seen them a month ago at the same place and enjoyed them very much. I knew some of the members from local 1960’s bands when I started playing in a band with my brother, Larry, in junior and senior high school. A connection here between fly tying and playing drums is that I started doing both at about the same time in my life, 1964, in the summer after my fifth grade year. I knew the drummer in Flipside, one of them anyway, since I later found out this band uses four or five different drummers; on this night it was Mike Mummey. After not seeing him for thirty-four years I had to tell him who I was after I said, “Hi, Mike,” and after his courteous reply with no reaction of recognition to me, I then asked, “You don’t remember me do you?”

“No.” He replied. When I announced my name, it was a typical hearty handshake and greeting that one would expect after years of not seeing one another. At the end of a brief conversation, he asked, “You wanna play?”

I answered, “Yeah, if you don’t mind, that’d be kinda cool!” We made arrangements for me to do Mustang Sally, since he sings the lead on that and could front the band on the vocal. There were a few of my friends there, but I didn’t tell anyone in advance. They called me up in the middle of the third set, at which point in the evening most of the patrons were, shall we say, really enjoying themselves. It was great! Mike counted us off, and Mustang Sally came to life. Took me a verse to get into the groove and settle into a relaxed mode of playing, but it was wonderful to play in front of a crowd again! The acoustic guitarist, Rock Anello, took me under his wing and cued me to the breaks, they more or less follow The Commitments version on that aspect, which was a good thing since I never performed that song in my life. Though as a drummer, back in the day, all I ever did to learn a song was to keep listening to it. The performance comes when you sit down at the drum set. There were no horns, but the keyboard player used the digitized note settings to fill them in. With double lead guitars, a hot lead guitar solo was inserted in the middle of the song for an entire verse. The dance floor was full, the band was good, and it was really fun! After the break, Shane Wittman, the keyboard / guitarist / lead vocalist / bandleader told me I did a good job and would be welcome to sit in anytime. Most likely I’ll be looking up their playing schedule and take them up on it.

Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor – Classic Wet Flies

I recently added a couple new items to my product page at MyFlies.com, and I wanted to share these items with my readers. The items are Boxed Collector’s Sets of paired classic wet flies. The first to go up was the Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor, then a couple weeks later, this past weekend actually, the second set was posted – The Parmacheene Belle and the Trout Fin. All four are classic wet flies that were (or could also be) classic Lake Flies. In fact only the Trout Fin is not confirmed by my research as an authentic historic or heritage-style “Lake Fly,” but I believe that pattern, sent to Ray Bergman in the mid-1940’s by Bert Quimby of South Windham, Maine, for inclusion in Ray’s fourth book, With Fly, Plug, and Bait, 1947, is of Maine origin and was probably fished in lakes. So there you go. Classic logical conclusion arrived at by deduction of the facts.

These wet fly sets are actually what got me started on the path to being more or less a professional fly tier. I started selling them back in the mid-nineties when I was doing shows as an exhibitor; selling tying materials, flies, fly selections, hooks, tackle accessories, and – boxed pairs, sets of classic wet flies. Back then they were not even called “classic wet flies” because the term had not yet caught on, and I was about the only tier, or one of the few fly tiers around even tying those old “forgotten” brook trout patterns. It’s like at one time, Classic Rock music was just “rock music.” So these old “classic” wet flies were at one time, just “wet flies.”

I had sent the first set of the “Doctors” to a customer in Canada. Then I got another order just last week for a customer in Australia, which could be another story in and of itself, but suffice it to say that it’s amazing to think there are classic salmon and trout fly tiers in the land Down-Under. Bob Frandsen for one that I can think of; member of http://www.classicflytyingforum.com and TheStreamerList.com. (That reminds me of Men at Work, a favorite classic rock band from Australia. I love The Essential Men at Work, it’s one of my favorite CD’s).

So back to doctors in the house – the Silver Doctor was published in Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury. Not once, not twice, but four times. The first Silver Doctor in Marbury’s book is among the Salmon Flies, then there are three different versions included on the Plates of Lake Flies, the Orvis version, and two more patterns of the Doctor, designed by Henry P. Wells, creator of the Parmacheene Belle, and J. G. Shearer. The Golden Doctor is not as well known as the Silver Doctor, but it is mentioned in Marbury’s book, dating it to the 19th century, certifying its probable use as a fancy Lake Fly pattern.

Here are some photos of the patterns:

Silver Doctor - Don Bastian pattern variation.

Silver Doctor – Don Bastian pattern variation. Dressed on a #4 Mustad 3906 vintage wet fly hook. I added the jungle cock cheek for extra appeal. The basic pattern – tail, tag, tip, body, hackles came from Trout, by Ray Bergman.

This pattern of the Silver Doctor is included in my second DVD, Advanced Classic Wet Flies, though that version has a slightly simpler five-strip wing. I got the idea for these original wing-quill versions of the Silver Doctor by examining commercially-tied Silver Doctor wet flies in The Maine Guide Fly Shop, in Greenville, Maine, about ten years ago. Those patterns were tied with duck wing quills, simply yellow and blue, married together. Up until then I had always tied the Silver Doctor using flank feathers of teal, barred wood duck in some cases, and mottled turkey or bustard, along with goose shoulder for the red, blue, and yellow. Seeing those simple quill-wing versions got me thinking; why not use more durable wing quill slips in place of the harder-to-use – not to mention grading and selecting – and less durable flank feathers? I used plain brown goose for turkey, and guinea fowl for a replacement for the black and white teal feathers. The rest was plain old goose and duck wing quill sections, readily available and easy to marry.

Here is the Golden Doctor:

Goldemn Doctor - dressed and photographed by Don Bastian. This pattern is the one taken from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman.

Golden Doctor – dressed and photographed by Don Bastian. The hook is a Mustad #4 vintage 3906. This pattern recipe is the one taken from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman.

Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor, card-mounted, boxed and labeled.

Collector’s Set – Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor, card-mounted, boxed and labeled.

Here is the link to this set of wet flies: http://www.myflies.com/Classic-Wet-Fly-Collection-Silver-and-Golden-Doctor-P837.aspx

When I was tying the Silver Doctor for the customer in Australia, I got the inspiration to change the mottled turkey in the wing to light and dark brown mottled peacock wing quill. The mottling of brown is bolder and more contrasting in the peacock feathers, and my reasoning was that it would look better. And I believe it does. All of these flies are tied with the wing tips curving downward, in popular 19th century fashion.

Here is the Silver Doctor, my latest variation:

Silver Doctor - dressed and photographed by Don Bastian.

Silver Doctor – dressed and photographed by Don Bastian. This pattern also differs from the one above in the lack of a tip; both the flat gold tinsel and red floss are part of the tag on this version. Sorry the photo is a little lackluster; I’m still having to shoot on “auto” which severely limits my options for lighting, focus, color, and depth-of-field. I may still decide to change the plain brown-dyed goose to mottled brown turkey for a little more variegation of color.

The Golden Doctor:

Golden Doctor - this version has a full collar hackle applied after the wing was mounted.

Golden Doctor – this version has a full collar hackle applied after the wing was mounted. These wing slips were cut from a matched pair of mallard flank feathers; that is a left and a right, so that the webbed fibers are balanced, left and right. Historically this pattern would have been tied with a pair of whole gray mallard flank feathers for the wing.

Golden Doctor

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #56 Red

Hook: #2 Mustad 3906, any standard wet fly hook will suffice

Tail: Red, yellow, and green goose or duck quill sections; married

Body: Flat gold tinsel

Hackle: Claret

Wing: Gray mallard with “splits” of narrow married blue and red goose shoulder

Head: Red – Wapsi lacquer was used over the red thread, and finished with a couple coats of clear Grif’s Thick

Below are both flies together on the wood:

Golden  Doctor and Silver Doctor - size #2 Mustad wet fly hooks, vintage 3906.

Golden Doctor and Silver Doctor – size #2 Mustad wet fly hooks, vintage 3906. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Here are the #2 Doctors, card-mounted, labeled, and ready to be sent off to Australia; thank you Brett!

Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor - Mustad #2 vintage 3906 wet fly hooks. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Silver Doctor and Golden Doctor – Mustad #2 vintage 3906 wet fly hooks. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Silver Doctor

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #56 Red

Hook: Mustad 3906 wet fly hook, any standard wet fly hook will suffice

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Tail: Golden pheasant crest and short dash of blue schlappen, or kingfisher

Tip: Red floss (see footnote differentiating tip and tag)

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Hackle: Blue fronted by guinea fowl

Wing: Brown turkey or mottled peacock, brown goose (or mottled turkey), guinea fowl, red, blue, yellow goose; married

Cheek: Jungle cock

Head: Red – this has a coat of Wapsi red lacquer, with a couple coats of clear Grif’s Thick over

The definition of tag and tip is as follows: A tag is always at the end of the body, but always behind and underneath the tail; whereas a tip is also at the end of the body but always encircles the tail. This definition is clear; taken from J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies. However, in his own excellent Fly Nomenclature drawing, he contradicts himself by, according to his written definition, labeling part of the tag as the “tip.” The pattern in his diagram, p. 37, 1988 edition, actually has no tip. I believe my readers will appreciate this clarification.

Here is a photo of the married wings before mounting; I didn’t count barbs, but figured four each was about right. The individual wings may be off a barb here and there. Two contradictory definitions can not both be correct.

Silver Doctor wings

Silver Doctor wings – married, prior to mounting on the fly.

Silver Doctor wings set in place with two or three thread wraps.

Silver Doctor wings set in place with three or four thread wraps.

Macro-image of the wing set. Notice how the quill sections have compressed perfectly, with not fluting, pleating, or folds. Something I just learned in March of 2012. Read below for that technique.

Macro-image of the wing set. Notice how the quill sections have compressed perfectly, and they are centered on top of the hook shank, with no fluting, pleating, or folds. Something I just learned how to do in March of 2012. Read below for that technique.

I shall endeavor to explain this as succinctly as possible. However, without a photographic step-by-step, or until I can make another video, this is the best I can do. If you don’t quite get it the first time, try reading it slower a second time, and go through the motions with your hands as you read. That should do it.

At the Annual L. L. Bean Spring Fly Fishing Expo in March of 2012, my friend from York, Maine, Dave Lomasney, showed me a “new” method of mounting wet fly wings. I had met Dave just one year earlier. Since he was interested, I spent some time teaching him the basics of tying wet flies and marrying wings. In a few months Dave was turning our great wet flies (see this post in my archives):  https://donbastianwetflies.com/2012/01/02/bee-1900s-orvis-wet-fly-pattern/

In 2012 Dave came up to me as I was tying at Bean’s and announced he had discovered a new way to mount wet fly wings. I did not express too much amazement, because in typical “experienced” fly tier fashion, having tied wet flies for years, I figured there wasn’t much new under the sun. I was about to be enlightened! I’ve learned more than once not to be too stubborn and set in my ways. Most anyone who has tied a few flies can probably teach you something. Dave’s method has actually been around, but to my knowledge and surveys taken since, it was not normally used on feather wing wet flies. It may have been used by salmon fly tiers, but it was primarily developed to tie in bucktail hair wings, a small bunch at a time, the idea being to get a better grip on the hair fibers by tying in smaller bunches in stages. With bucktail, the tying thread is brought completely around the butt ends of hair, then around the hook shank, so two wraps are made over the butts before they are lashed down to the hook. So it is with the feather wing slips on wet flies.

Pinch and hold the wing in the usual position, but elevate it slightly above the hook shank as you make the first wrap, then the second thread wrap is brought underneath the butt ends of the quills, but not around the hook. Two wraps are made over the butt ends of the wing quills before you make the third wrap that takes the thread around the hook shank.

The two wraps over the wing must be made directly above the rear of the head, which is where your tie-in point would and should normally be. They must also be made in place, right on top of each other. Once the two wraps are made over the butt ends of the wing, let go of your bobbin. Then the left hand holds and only holds the wing proper (do NOT make any other motions); while the right hand grasps the butt ends of the wing and makes a slight up and down motion with the exposed butt ends. This action, combined with the gravity weight of the bobbin, relaxes and collapses the thread looped around the wing. Once this is accomplished, 50 to 75% of the wings butt ends will be compressed and collapsed down.

Next stabilize the wing with your left thumb and middle finger, holding the wing vertical, and tight (but not too tight to have the thread cut the fibers of the wing), and maybe even tilted slightly toward you; grasp your bobbin, and tighten the thread slowly, gradually bringing it to up to maximum tension, before making the third wrap. Make two more wraps at max tension, then check your wing attitude.

With practice this method will improve your wing setting by 100%. It may take a few flies and wings and some effort to get it down. And I have learned that it is particularly useful for wider wings on large hook sizes. This technique excels in setting perfect wings on #2 and #4 hooks. I use it all the way down to #8’s; on #10 and smaller it is not necessary. I dare say thank you Dave! I have used this method on virtually every size #8 and larger wet fly wing I have tied in the last year-and-a-half.

One result this method accomplishes is this: It gathers the bottom of the wing quill sections completely together, pulling them in place and centering them top-dead-center on the hook shank. It eliminates any slippage or “creep” of the bottom of the wings down over the sides of the fly body. And it virtually eliminates pleating and folding of the wing. It also ties in the wing at the exact point where the thread initially makes contact on the top of the quill sections, eliminating the forward thread-slippage that almost always occurs when setting wet fly wings with the conventional finger-pinch-wrap method. I still teach the conventional method of setting wings, but in every class I have taught since Dave showed me this trick, I teach this method more than any other. My students unanimously love it better than the old method.

Oh, and yes, I use the same method on the Golden Doctor and other flank-winged wet flies in setting the two opposing sections of gray mallard flank. Works like a charm!