The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"?

Wets, the subtle art form where masters are few and far between.
Posts: 1738
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:16 pm
Location: 1 hr north of the Catskills

The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"?

Post by mikevalla »

Our Corlay, in the wet fly thread "Wrap or Beard" suggested that I include some examples of the "true classic" classic wet flies. I think his point was that modern artistic interpretations, in form and appearance, of what was a really "classic" wet fly has lttle resemblance to the flies actually tied and fished.
But don't get me wrong, a pristinely tied wet fly is certainly a work of art,
and I can respect that. It's just not something I generally aspire to in my own tying, is all...
It would give a novice tier a realistic reference for what they should be shooting for,
when they try and emulate what they see in a book. Set that bar too high,
and it could turn a lot of "tie-curious" folks off... (my opinion)
The "working wet flies" used by most fly fishers were empty of overly and excessively neatly formed, "patent leather shine" heads (now crafted with contemporary acrylic cements--and not Spar Varnish or Shellacs of the past).

The hard, ineluctable fact is that examples of wet flies coined as "classics" maybe "classic" in "pattern"..but have no relationship at all to "appearance" of the wet flies used on-stream.The day to day use flies. Corlay can chime in---but I think that was his valid point.

So, what was a "classic" wet used on at least our Catskill waters--40-60 years ago? I pulled some from my collection. All are pre-1972---some going back to 1940. From a variety of tiers--some famous, some not.

Here's a Harry Darbee Wet. Pretty nice really--amazing since Elsie did most of the wets. Notice the wing length. And notice it doesn't stop at the hook bend.

Here's one of Elsie's

Walt's example (although I've over fished it! Notice the characteristic Dette brown head. Notice the hook length. Not a short shank at all (like the 3906's modern guys swear by as "Classic"). Walt didn't tie a lot of wets, but he tied this one.


This is an "alleged" Ray Bergman, given to me by the late Bill Parvin--a former Wall St. guy. Certainly not the shadow-box appearance that followers of his craft now showcase (based on a liberal interpretation of the illustrator). It appears the floss has faded?


This is an "alleged" Harry Wall wet, also given to me by Parvin. You'll notice the very low set wing. Regardless of what you may hear or read, low profile wingings, somewhat covering the body, were very common wet fly styles. Also, notice the head--large and functional---no resemblance to modern interpretations deemed "classic"


Not sure who gave me this one. Can't recall--and I have no label. But the interesting thing is the Turle Knot space--on a wet fly. Maybe that's why I grabbed it. Many contemporary wet fly tiers might scoff at the fly. Certainly not a work of art---but a "classic", indeed

Look at this one. This was a "working" fly--and probably caught trout.
Follow me on Twitter

User avatar
Posts: 5102
Joined: Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:20 pm
Location: Catskills

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by Eperous »

The first thing I thought of when looking through these flies was the purpose of the tie... are they, as friend calls them, "bin" or fishing flies, or are they for framing???? :?:

Not sure we all tie each fly with the same effort we might do others depending upon its destination... When I tie in mass for myself, I try to be neat and fast... Being fast sometimes causes some deficiencies (sp?) in the end result... When I tie to donate flies to an organization/cause, I take much more time checking the various stages of progress as I go... And these flies do look better than those mass produced...

Back when you and I started fishing, not many folks tied flies for framing -- or share beauty.. Most folks tied their flies for the fish, and quite frankly I'm not so sure the fish view these with the same critical eye anglers do, else I wouldn't be catching any trout at all.... :lol: :lol: :lol:


Posts: 1738
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:16 pm
Location: 1 hr north of the Catskills

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by mikevalla »

The first thing I thought of when looking through these flies was the purpose of the tie... are they, as friend calls them, "bin" or fishing flies, or are they for framing????'ve crystalized my whole point; "bin" flies and "fishing flies" are the "classic flies". Framing flies-- "perfect examples of an artistic interpretation" based on an illustrator's fertile imagination was kind of non-sense back when.

And, again, Harry's quote:
"Fussing over a fly to get lifelike effects, or because you want some kind of perfect example of the tier's art has never appealed to me

Moreover---Ed, have another look-see of Elsie's McClane plates wet flies--Those flies were going into a major book---and I still don't detect an approach to make sure they were a "perfect example of the tier's art"....
Follow me on Twitter

Posts: 1461
Joined: Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:29 am

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by narcodog »

Seeing these examples is enlightening. For years I have struggled tying classic wets flies that would look like the Bergman flies and others. My flies would never be even close. I never showed any nor gave them away because I thought they were not up to par. Now here are flies that look like mine. :)

CJ and others that assemble those works of art that are displayed here are out of my tying ability at the present time. If I tied more I'm sure they would get better.

It's like some realistic flies being tyed at the FFF in W. Yellowstone, they were works of art and I would never fish them. Although the"artist" fished them all of the time.

Thanks for posting Mike.

ted patlen
Posts: 1967
Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:03 am

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by ted patlen »

another great idea..

classic in what terms? historical? old? user friendly? are we using "classic" as a synonym for "popular"?

a silver doctor wet is considered a classic fly by many but how many do you see used now-a-days? my guess is that it is too complicated to tie more than one of.
Does it still work? at times, yes.

historical flies like the lady beaverkill, cahills, etc....still work very well....and probably the most popular of the classic flies , the lead wing coachman and the brown hackle peacock are stples in my wet fly box.

i'd call these "classics" why ? why is mozarts works called classical while glenn miller isn't?

hard to put into words, but if , in my old graying head, it has been around a long time; a very long time;and is still popular, then i'll consider it as a classic...i guess my idea is close to antique a true antique is supposed to be 100 years old (i believe) so i tend to think like that when using the terms classic when talking about flies...some patterns now-adays may well become classics some time in the future.

as for the old flies them...simple, sparse, and skinny if we are trying to imitate an insect that is basically a translucent entity with diaphanous gills , legs, wings etc...then the patterns should resemble that . but the fish are not really bright creatures and almost everything will have it's day...if properly ain't the Mazeradi, it's how you drive it..


Posts: 827
Joined: Fri Apr 24, 2009 10:37 am
Location: Ohio

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by dennis »

Looking at these flys makes me smile from past years at the vise. I never was the type to tye shadow box quality until a few years ago when I first seen flys tied by Don Biaston. I thought to myself, those are to nice to fish with. Perfect married wings, lacquered heads, and all collars tied beard style. The only thing my flys and his had in common was the hooks he used. Even now I only wrap hackle for collars cause I use them for fishing. Someday I will try my luck at Don's style of flys.

I never gave much thought tying exquisite looking flys even when tying fly boxes of patterns for donation on my home waters for my local TU Chapter back in the early 80's. All flys consisted of fishing flys such as the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph, Prince Nymph, a Lead-wing Coachman and for drys I always tied a Hendrickson, Griffiths Gnat and a Henryville Caddis. I never spent much time on these cause they were going to be used to fish with. Besides I was always taught a fly that has caught allot of fish will be more productive then a new one, due to it's buggiest. I'm sure everyone who bought those boxes then are now laughing at me saying what a lousy tyer I was. The reason I say that is when Don Biaston was in Dayton Ohio here while back, he did a wet fly tying class for our club, and it was sold out in no time.I talked to a student some time after the class, and he had been bitten by the shadow box style of tying that he spends all his time tying that he has no time to fish. Sad isn't it. The thing is tying flys for show was never heard of then in Ohio like is is now. With tyers like Mike Schmidt who has been giving tying classes at my local flyshop, it's only a matter of time when more guys from here will follow this art. Which is a great thing.

Mike, I really like tying and fishing flys like you have shown here. I started out with Schwiebert's "Matching the Hatch, Flicks "Streamside Guide" and became real close friends with Carl Richards "Selective Trout". All these gentlemen tyed flys for fishing rather than show. I remember when Carl did a seminar at our local fly shop during his fame with "Caddis Super Hatches" and did a class tying with latex for pupa patterns and tape for the wings on his Tape Wing Caddis. He was always experimenting with different materials and such. Well, I was lucky enough to fish with him before heading back home. My friend who owns a AuSable drift boat floated us on the Mad during the month of May with Hendrickson's expected to hatch along with Cinnamon Caddis witch Carl mentioned in "Super Hatches". We floated for some time before finding rising trout, George slowed the boat and positioned Carl for a shot at a good size brown that left a bulge the size of a bowling ball. Carl pulled out his fly box and tyed on a fly and began working over the fish. When the fish took the fly, there was an explosion that damn near knocked me out of the boat, since Carl was born in a boat it didn't seem to affect him. It was a fat brown about two pounds.

When we were loading the boat back on the trailer, I asked Carl if I could look in his fly box. Expecting to see all kinds of creepy crawlers made out of latex, and lots of synthetic flys. But to my surprise there were no such flys. There were mostly No Hackle Duns, parachutes and many soft hackles tyed with natural materials. I questioned him about using the latex patterns he tied in the class, if they worked. Carl said he was still testing them on his home water, the Muskegon, and would send me a full report sometime. Then winked at me and handed me a hand full of No hackles witch he used to land the brown that day on the Mad during the Henny hatch and said these would work anywhere. I never had the chance to talk to him about the new patterns he originated in Super Hatches. He died unexpectedly of CHF the folling spring. God rest his soul. Dennis

Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:43 pm

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by troutbum40 »

I love seeing those "classic" flies that people have in their collectons! Flies were meant to be fished back then,some tiers today in my opinion, put too much into their flies to fish them. I worry more about a fly staying together for atleast a dozen fish! Would the fish really care if the fly has one wrap of hackle on a wet or two? ;) To each his own! That's what makes tying so interesting I suppose.

Jim Slattery
Posts: 159
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:25 pm
Location: on the Madison River

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by Jim Slattery »

Interesting post Mike.
Leisenring was a advocate of tying the perfect fly and fishing it, I personally agree with that view. Of course there is no such thing as the perfect fly but aspiring perfection is a good thing in tying. I'm sure when you were taught by Walt you thought his flies were perfect and you aspired to tie as well as Walt. I have seen some fantastic wet flies tied by a lot of old timers, close to perfection as you can get. I would say that these flies were "classic examples" as soon as they came of the vise and they were tied to fish. It is nice when you can tie the fly exactly as it was designed to be tied. While I can understand Harry's sentiment ""Fussing over a fly to get lifelike effects, or because you want some kind of perfect example of the tier's art has never appealed to me" I do not totally agree with it. Lifelike effects are a cornerstone to great flies, I've already covered the perfection part. I've seen some early examples of Walt's flies and they are pretty close to perfection in my eyes. You can tell by looking he wanted everything to be perfect, measured tails, wings hackle nothing was left to chance but the tiers skill. This is very aspiring.

The popularity of the modern day "ahem" Bergman Wets as they have been come to be known are in my mind replications of illustrations as well. Modern tiers such as Bastian are imitating the illustrations perfectly. Interestingly , Bastian can whip out one of these flies in about 5 minutes, certainly not time consuming for him.

As for what truly is "Classic" this is from Wikipedia : The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality. The word can be an adjective (a classic car) or a noun (a classic of American literature). It denotes a particular quality in art, architecture, literature and other cultural artifacts. In commerce, products are named 'classic' to denote a long standing popular version or model, to distinguish it from a newer variety. Classic is used to describe many major, long-standing sporting events. Colloquially, an everyday occurrence (e.g. a joke or mishap) may be described as 'an absolute classic'.
Using this definition it is clear that even the "ugly" fishing flies as well as the perfectly tied flies can all be considered "classic" given the right circumstance.

Posts: 1738
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:16 pm
Location: 1 hr north of the Catskills

Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by mikevalla »

Hi Dennis,

I really enjoyed your comments, shared story, and observations. Very interesting, indeed! I still very fondly remember the classic Joe Books piece on the "no-hackle" flies that appeared in the August 1970 issue of Outdoor Life (never forgot the month and year!). It was a revelation---and an eye opener, for sure. Almost instantly, no-hackle dry flies were emerging from my vice---had to have 'em!

Dennis, thanks again for the time you took to respond..and share what I'm sure are cherished times with Carl Richards---for sure!
Follow me on Twitter


Re: The "Classic" Classic wet flies. What is truly "Classic"

Post by Soft-hackle »

Thought I'd chime in on this one. To me fly tying is an art, and when any artist steps up to the canvas, in this case, the bare hook, the artist/tier tries very hard to achieve the best they can do. At least I do, whether the fly will be fished or placed in a frame. No fly is perfect and many terribly imperfect flies can still catch fish, however I believe tiers, for the most part try to achieve the best they can. I would have a tendency to agree with my cohort, Jim Slattery that "classic" would mean the very best example of a time tested, long lasting procedure, design. etc.

We also have to remember as an artist-Dr. Burke also tried to make his illustrations as precise as possible. As an illustrator, he must have been trying, also, to make the painting very easy to see and copy. This is one reason illustrations are created-to make things clearer and easier to understand.

We also have to remember that prior to the American wet fly boom as reflected in Bergman's Trout , our English fore runners were fashioning wet flies which were often quite different than those in Bergman. Many made their way across the pond to us. Not all classic flies were/are the product of the Catskill region. Flies like Greenwell's Glory, Hare's Ear, Cowdung are classical English flies.


Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests