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