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.

Big Pine Creek Stream / Fishing Report

This is from the Slate Run Tackle Shop website, Stream Conditions page:

06-05-12:  Pine is in great condition for this time of year. It has cleared over the past two days to an olive and the temperature remains in the upper 50’s. We still have Slate Drakes, BWO’s, Sulphurs, and some Brown Caddis. Trout are still active on the surface, and providing very good, but challenging fly fishing to some fine trout. The long range weather forecast calls for showers, and cool temperatures for the next week, so you should be fishing!

If you visit the Pine Creek Valley, be sure to stop in for a great deli sandwich on home-made bread at The Slate Run Tackle Shop / Wolfe’s Store.

The last time I was fishing on Big Pine Creek was Sunday May 20th. A tough day fishing-wise. A beautiful day otherwise. I had the best day of my life there on May 17th. That’s another blog post. But on this day, I was expecting to do very well. Wrong. Spent Brown Drake Spinners were on the water, more prevalent than the other 13 different bugs flying about, and I didn’t have any. I had generously given away my last few Slate Drake Spinners to my friends that I’d been fishing with on the previous Thursday trip. They were fishing Friday and Saturday while I was going to the cabin to cut firewood. So I didn’t need any Slate Drake Spinners. Or so I thought. A Slate Drake Spinner might have risen a few trout that were eating those big Brown’s, because being an extended-body size eight, they were a little smaller than the Brown Drakes, but they might have done the trick. But I just about threw my arm off, casting, changing flies, casting, changing flies, casting.

Here are some photos of the day:

My favorite section of PA Rt. 414. That’s right – this is a state highway, and even though this section was replaced in the summer of 2011, parts of it are still too narrow for two cars to pass at the same time. Nice! It’s not the interstate. And that’s another good thing. Off to the left you can see the creek, and the drop-off.

This is the drop-off. About 400 feet. You don’t want your car to go over the edge here; there isn’t much to stop it until you land on the old railroad now walking-hiking-biking trail near the bottom. Part of the trail is visible to the left of center right of the creek. That’s why the State Road Crews can’t make this a two-lane road. It’s practically built into the side of a cliff. A spectacular view of the creek, and the valley both ways, upstream and down.

Manor Hotel across Big Pine Creek from the rear of the Slate Run Tackle Shop. Note the large log pile. And the smoker behind the building. The small green structure with the black roof. Yup. That’s right. Bar-b-Que! They smoke their own. Good place to eat and drink. The original Manor Hotel burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in May of 2004. The stream Slate Run is right behind the Hotel and the log pile.

Pine Creek Valley at Slate Run, behind the Fly Shop, looking upstream. I just happened to catch the turkey vulture just above the crest of the ridge.

March Brown dun. Cool night and heavy dew. Who ever owned this truck had parked it there overnight, which was convenient for these photos. This fellow and the spinner in the next photos were my only companions as I suited up and rigged my rod.

March Brown / Gray Fox Spinner. There was also a Brown Drake Spinner there too, but I made the mistake of trying to reposition it for a better photo, and it flew off.

Nice Pine Creek rainbow, close to 17″ that fell to a 3x long #8 Ephemera nymph, swung just under the surface. This pattern could pass for either a Green or Brown Drake. This solitary fish was the result of 2-1/2 hours fruitless casting to rising trout feeding on Brown Drake Spinners. As noted above, I didn’t have any. But I gave it the old college try and threw enough different patterns to open a fly shop with. See where the fish splashed a drop of water on my lens.

On the way back to the car, I came upon this wild iris in bloom.

In the afternoon, I went to the lower end of the Delayed Harvest Section, first, to have lunch at the picnic tables. I had homemade potato salad, a turkey sandwich, and some corn ships. Oh, and an ice-cold Yuengling. Secondly, I wanted to nymph fish the riffles at the head of the long pool. I hooked a few fish there using a two-fly nymph rig, but didn’t land any. After fishing I sat at the tables having another beer and an agent from DCNR, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry Department, drove in and stopped. He got out of his vehicle and came over to chat. I found it interesting that a forester was carrying a sidearm. He was actually a warden, but not for the Fish Commission, or Game Commission. In Pennsylvania, we have two separate departments for that. We are the only state in the Union to maintain two separate Fish and Game Agencies.

The annual toad mating was in full swing. Hundreds of toads, along the waters edge, in the water, and even floating downstream, some clinging together in the embrace of their instinct, bobbing along in oblivious delight. I could have gotten fifteen toads together in one shot, You had to be careful not to step on them, there were so many. Their mating calls were incessant.

The mating of the toads. I did see one female with five males, all clinging to her. While perhaps only one was actually giving her the business, I guess. I was going to take a photo of that but it was actually kind of revolting.

Late afternoon light on the Delayed Harvest Section below the bridge at Slate Run. I did very well here on the 17th, but this particular evening there was no major hatch activity.

Before I got into position to take this photograph, I spent an hour and a half parked in the shade at the Hotel Manor taking a nap. When I started fishing I was casting an extended body Slate Drake Thorax Dun Pattern. I hooked one large trout and lost him. I rose a few more and missed them. Or they missed me.

You can see the width of the stream here. I was using a 9-foot 6-weight rod with a 7-weight forward floating line. I like the heavier rod for the big water. It give extra advantages when the wind gusts up. Plus if I’m working a rising trout at 50- 60 feet away, I can cast above the rise, make a ten foot drift, pick it up, one back cast, and repeat. Very efficient to cover the trout. I sometimes fish like this with my left hand on my hip. Making the same cast over and over again, because I’m not stripping in line which then has to be reset to readjust the distance to the target. I finally wandered back to the bank and sat on a rock to rest for a while. As I did, this Slate Drake Dun fluttered by so I caught him / her. She, as I decided to call her, posed quite admirably on my knee:

Slate Drake Dun. This is a heavy hatch on Big Pine Creek. One that lasts, too. These flies will also hatch mid-stream. They do not all migrate to the shallows and edges to emerge. Note the lighter colored forelegs; this is why one Slate Drake pattern is called the White-Gloved Howdy, as if it’s extending for a handshake.

A friend who knew I was going to be fishing the area came by to join me. That wasn’t definite, especially with this particular friend, because you never know what he’ll get in to. I was kind of thinking of leaving before he arrived, but when a friend comes to fish with you, I did the right thing and stayed longer. He fished soft-hackles, I continued to cast my Slate Drake pattern, but neither of us rose a fish. I finally gave in to desperation, took off the dry tied on a  a #8 black beadhead Wooly Bugger and hooked this 18″ brown in less than five minutes.

18″ brown trout and #8 black bead-head Wooly Bugger. Sometimes desperation is a good thing.

Not too long after I released this fish, maybe twenty minutes, I called it a night. My precious, mallard wing-eating puppy dog, Abigail, had been at the cabin all day and I figured I’d better start back before darkness set in so I could let her out. I had a brisk quarter-mile walk to my car, put the rod in the car, took off my vest and waders, and hopped in the car. I had the wonderful drive through that beautiful valley ahead of me. Sunday evening. Fifteen miles to Morris. Leaving Slate Run, past Cedar Run, through Blackwell. Fifteen miles of driving without passing a solitary vehicle in either direction. That’s solitude for you. And by the way, no cell service either. I can’t wait to get back over there since the stream conditions and fishing are so — perfect.

On Monday morning, I sat at my vise and developed a perfect, two-tone, yellow on bottom, brown on top, foam extended body, three tails for a Brown Drake Spinner. So far, it’s just a body, a prototype. ready for a size #12 Tiemco 2488 hook. I need to finish a few flies. It will be suitable for duns and spinners both. But one thing is sure; with this new Brown Drake weapon, the trout will never do that to me again.