Fly Tying Videos
Fly Fishing Podcast
FFOhio Team
Warm Water Rivers
Flatwater Guides
Site Map

Favorite Flies of Alec Stansell

by Joseph D. Cornwall


A year or so ago I was surfing the 'net, wasting a little time and looking at fly fishing web sites.  Those of you who know me know that this isn't an unusual activity!  I'm not sure how I found it, but I ended up on Alec Stansell's page, FavoriteFlies.com.  The fly I saw there was the Andes (shown left - click on the image for a larger view), a classic bass fly that was new.  Not new to me, but brand new.  Alec had created the fly as a tribute to a class of flies that are uniquely American in lineage, flies that were tied to take trout and bass on lakes and rivers.  I had to have this new fly for my collection.  It took only minutes to order one on-line. 


From time to time I checked back with FavoriteFlies.com and I found that Alec was working his way through a series of these beautiful pieces of angling art.  Each month I purchased his newest offering, hoping to build a collection.  I even went to the point of buying a special fly box, just to have a "proper" home for these fascinating creations.  Considering that I'd been discussing classic bass flies on the Steamers@ e-list, I knew I was into something serendipitous. 


A few weeks later I found myself surfing the 'net again.  This time I ended up at The Bass Pond, a web site dedicated to warmwater fly fishing.  I also found a link to the Samuel Tisdale society, a group named after the man who first brought Black Bass to Massachusetts in 1851.  The Samuel Tisdale Society is a club of Northeastern warmwater fly fishers who get together in June and September each year.  Clearly this was a site I was going to have to explore a bit more seriously.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that Alec Stansell was a founder of both the Samuel Tisdale Society and The Bass Pond web pages!


One thing lead to another and the Streamers@ group took on a "Feature Swap"; a fly swap where-in each tier submits one or more patterns based on a theme selected by the host. The swap host agrees to take on the responsibility of photographing the flies and writing an accompanying article for publication on The Global Fly Fisher web site.  The swap topic was "The Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury" and focused on flies created and used in the late 19th and early 20th century for bass fishing in the Midwest.   As the swap host, I spent a lot of time researching these flies and coordinating the swap.  I couldn't get Alec's flies out of my head, though.  After all, he was tying and fishing these patterns on a regular basis.  Clearly the Streamers@ feature and the flies of Alec StanselI were two sides of the same page.  I decided a great way to expand on the Global Fly Fisher feature would be to write an article profiling Alec and his fascination with flies that have been absent from most angler's fly books for well over 50 years.  This is that article.


I emailed Alec to see if he was interested in the project.  A series of furious question-and-answer emails ensued.  We ended up with a twenty-first century interview about nineteenth century flies.


Alec, you currently live on Cape Cod. Have you always been a Massachusetts native? How did you start fly fishing and fly tying? Was it a saltwater or freshwater beginning?

Yes - I am native to Mass but have lived all over New England. For a couple of lean years I owned and operated a fly shop in Maine. I started fishing both fresh and salt as a young boy and fly fishing as a young man. Fly tying naturally followed.


Tell me about The Andes.  That's the fly I first saw on your web site.  How did that come about?


l enjoy duck hunting with my American Water Spaniel, Belle, and had some good shooting when a lot of Green Wing Teal showed up on Cape Cod last season. What beautiful feathers! Inspired by flies like the Cheney I tied the Andes. It's a great looking fly I think.

New England is known for its trout and landlocked salmon fishing. Its the home of the streamer fly, and nearby upstate New York is ground zero for American fly fishing - particularly trout fishing. How did you find your way to tying the classic bass flies?

Oh, we have excellent bass and panfishing here as well and there is a rich warmwater angling history here. I was drawn to the older warmwater patterns. I love old books and have dealt in antiquarian books for years. When I first saw M.O.M.'s book [editor's note: Alec is referring to "Favorite Flies and Their Histories" by Mary Orvis Marbury] I knew I had to tie those flies! The same applies to Bergman's Trout. What great flies!

Do you fish these bass and lake flies often? Are you successful with them?

I fish them regularly, though they are by no means the only patterns I fish. I am successful with them, particularly in rivers or when equipped with an in-line spinner.

I see that you are expanding your work on Favorite Flies to include some spinner/fly artificial. There are quite a few long rodders who'll say those aren't flies! (For the record, I'm not one of them...) Is the spinner fly a throw-back to an earlier way of fishing for you, or is this something new that you've found yourself exploring?

I fished with spinners when I used spinning tackle as a boy so I was well aware of their efficacy. They are a real part of the long rod anglers heritage and are sadly neglected. Remember, before there was spinning gear guys threw all sorts of things with a fly rod, including bait! The fly rod is a versatile fishing tool that was never meant to be subject to a set of arbitrary rules. Unfortunately, for some it has become more than just a tool and instead it and it's use serves as a means of self-definition that they hate to see sullied by what is considered a coarser variety of sport. I think that's an absurdity of the highest order.

What kind of tackle do you use to fish spinner flies and classic bass flies? Rod, line, leader and set-up...

I use a 7.5' 5 weight glass rod and an 8.5' 8 wt. glass rod, both by Fenwick. Floating or full sinking (density compensated ) lines and generally leaders not over 9 ' - much shorter with the full sinking line. I tie my own leaders with Maxima Chameleon, though I will use other softer tippet materials.

Classic bass flies and lake flies use some fairly exotic materials. What are your feelings regarding original materials and current material substitutions? For your fishing flies, do you try to keep "authentic" or do you stretch the horizons a bit?

Actually, there are very few exotic materials in the classic bass flies. Most materials are readily available, with only a few exceptions. Loon for instance is easily substituted by painting white dots on black goose cussettes. You might need to do some hunting around or some special ordering as far as colors go, but it's all out there. There are quite a number of flies that use barred wood duck, so if your not a hunter yourself, it pays to get to know some and have them save you the feathers. It sad to think how many wood duck feathers are discarded every year.

What do you think the "next big thing" in fly fishing might be? It seems old is new, and the focus is shifting towards techniques that wouldn't have been out of place 50 years ago. Coincidence?

I think the more atavistic anglers are a great minority though. High-tech still seems the general trend. Some of the foam flies are starting to resemble some of the earlier fly rod lures though, so it nice to see some of the "match the hatch" sensibilities loosen up a bit.

A while ago you suggested a book on The Bass Pond as part of a discussion of panfish and warm water fly fishing books. The book you recommended was "The Panfishes" by Byron Dalrymple. It was published in, I believe, 1947. I'm curious, Dalrymple extols the virtues of steel fly rods, automatic reels and even fishing bait and small plugs on fly gear. Now this is prior to the introduction of spinning gear, of course, so light tackle wasn't readily available. Still, I'm surprised at your choice of his work. What is it about these 'classic era' books that holds attraction for you? Are the concepts, ideas, tactics and techniques still applicable today?

As for the Dalrymple book; I really like his easy going enthusiastic approach to fishing. He also encourages anglers to approach panfish with the same enthusiasm they do other sport fish, but to adjust their tackle accordingly and really lighten it up. I couldn't agree more. Ray Bergman took up the same torch later in "Just Fishing".  All in all, I find many of the older angling books refreshing - they are often less intense and scientific than a lot of today's works and are more in keeping with angling's recreational purpose.


Please let me get back to you on this one - there is much to say about books!

Of all the species you've caught on a fly, what's your favorite? Which fish do you chase in your dreams?

I honestly can't pick a favorite. I love bass and bluegill and the brook trout is a real favorite. As far as dreaming though, there are really only two fish that I dream of on a regular basis. One is a huge smallmouth. I hooked a real monster on a deer hair mouse twice over the course of two seasons, in the same spot, from the same boulder and lost him both times. It was a fish that might have gone 7 or 8 lbs. and was a great leaper. That was 11 and 12 years ago in Maine. Not a week passes that I don't think of that fish. I want a big smallmouth like that very badly, and I want to land it this time! I also dream of the huge brook trout in Labrador. Have you ever seen those pictures? My, they are beautiful and fearsome! Every angler in those pictures has the most incredible smile on their face. I would like to smile that "big brookie" smile! !




Alec Stansell comments; "He [Mr. A.N. Cheney] was C.F. Orvis' good pal and angling partner. Together they co-authered "Fishing With The Fly", another book with terriffic old bass patterns in it."


Named for Mr. William D. Cleveland, the treasurer of "The Texas Club," and exclusive group of three fly fishers. From M.O.M. "The club was a fishing club, and met summers to rejoice in being together and in fishing galore." This fly was inspired by, and a competitor to the Cheney.

Colonel Fuller

"Col.Fuller: A beautiful fly and a killer color combo. It's featherwing streamer compatriot was probably the origin of the later hair wing Mickey Finn." Alec Stansell


Mr. D.C. Estes wrote of this fly "It took me many years to find a fly that 'croppies' would take, but I now take them readily with a fly." Clearly Mr. Estes had a taste for silver!

De Gem

"In 1185 I wanted a fly with certain colors in it, but knowing of none suited to my idea, had De Gem tied as an experiment. I have done very well with it, principally in shallow waters like the Great Capon Creek and the Potomac at Harper's Ferry." A.F. Dressel

Fiery Dragon

"The most successful flies I have used for bass have been those in which green and yellow predominate. One in especial, a monstrosity of my own making, with a yellow body, green hackle and yellow wings, has proved very killing on the lakes of Minnesota." H.P. Uppford, thje originator of this pattern, liked this fly tied on a 2/0 hook.

Frank Gray

Mr. C.L. Valentine of Wisconsin wrote to Marbury "Mr. Gray makes what flies he uses. That included is the best I have ever seen for wall-eyed pike." This may be the first mention of walleye on a fly in the fishing lexicon!

Jungle Cock

"The wings of the Jungle Cock fly suggest its name, as they are taken from the frill or neck hackles of the wild fowl of the jungles of India, from which our domestic fowls are descended." This is one of a handful of flies that use the cape feathers rather than the more commonly used 'nails' so often seen on streamers and salmon flies.


"This fly was designed by Mr. William J. Cassard, of New York City, and later named by C.F. Orvis the Matador; ie., the killer. Its gay, rich dress reminds one of the picturesque matador of the Spanish bullfights, who is also the triumphant killer."


The Lovely Ondawa

Down on the river,

The sunshiny river,

Down midst the eddies

And deep limpid pools,

There's where my heart lies,

There's where the trout rise;

I think that's the place

To go fishing, don't you?"

This, the first stanza of a poem about the Ondawa River written "by a young girl of thirteen who was permitted to go one one of these fishing-trips"


First used in 1877, W.P. Andrus attests to its effectiveness thusly; "I proved conclusively that my new fly was a sure "killer" for in about a hundred minutes I had taken sixty-five trout that weighed twenty-five pounds."


The Polka was created by Dr. Henshall and almost certainly first used in the Cincinnati region in the late 19th century for smallmouth bass. Henshall wrote of it "As a father naturally thinks his own children the best, smartest, and handsomest, I may be pardoned for placing in my list, and strongly recommending as general flies, my Polka, Oriole, Oconomowoc and Henshall."

One For The Thumb

My wife is from Pittsburgh, so in celebration of the Steelers victory at the Superbowl... One for the Thumb!


Copyright 2005 - 2010.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this web site may be reproduced in any fashion without the express written consent of Fly Fish Ohio.

Send email to the Webmaster   This page was last updated 08/09/10