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Favorite Flies and Their Histories

Updated on March 31, 2012

Favorite Flies and Their Histories

Favorite Flies and Their Histories - With many replies from practical anglers to inquiries concerning how, when and where to use them. Illustrated by Thirty-two colored plates of flies, six engravings of natural insects and eight reproductions of photographs is a fly fishing book written by Mary Orvis Marbury published in Boston in April 1892 by Houghton Mifflin.

Favorite Flies is a unique volume that compiles the stories and images of popular American artificial flies of the late 19th century. It is one of the earliest works to use chromolithography color plates. Today, the original flies used to create the color plates are preserved in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont.

Fishing Flies

This book is an important work on the fly fishing flies in use during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Loaded with exquisite colored plates, which has gone into several editions. It was written and compiled from her father's correspondence, by the daughter of Charles F. Orvis, famed American tackle maker and author of "Fishing With the Fly" (1883 See link below).

Mrs. Mary Orvis Marbury was "not herself a fisher-woman," she was an expert at making flies, which she tied without the aid of a vise. Much of the book consists of the replies her father received from anglers to whom he had posed questions concerning the sport.

A Milestone in Fishing Literature

The Professor

The stories for each fly described in the volume were obtained through correspondence with fly fisherman and fly tiers throughout the U.S. and Canada. The following is a typical story about the Professor, a popular wet-fly of time:

No. 192. The Professor was named after the much-loved Professor John Wilson (Christopher North), and the story of the fly is, that one time, when this famous angler was fishing, he ran short of flies, and, to create something of a flylike appearance, he fastened the petals of buttercups on his hook, adding bits of leaves or grass to imitate the wings of a fly. This arrangement was so successful that it led to the making of the fly with a yellow silk body, since then so widely known as the Professor.

The Green Drake or The May Fly

No. 135 The Green Drake is called "the superior fly of the drake tribes," and every writer on angling seems roused to eloquence when discoursing of the first appearance of this little insect.

An outline sketch of the drakes has been given in Part I. The green drake, like all of its class, is bred in the water, first as an egg, and then as the larva. It usually rises to the surface some time during the month of May, when the pupa skin splits open and the fly emerges. Their length varies slightly, averaging about three fourths of an inch. The body consists of slender joints, tapering to the end, where it terminates in three stylets. It has a pair of oblong wings of delicate green, slightly veined and mottled ; when it rests, these stand upright, like the wings on a butterfly; at the base of the larger wings are two tiny rudimentary wings. One wonders to see these flies apparently springing from all parts of the water, but on looking closely we may discover the empty pupa skins floating away with the current. They continue to hatch for three or four weeks, until all are matured.

At first they fly but slowly, and seek to rest upon the nearest blade of grass or overhanging bush. The green drake is the pseudo-imago or sub-imago, as later the fly undergoes yet another change, casting away the garb of delicate green, and appearing in one of soft gray, the wings becoming more transparent and sparkling, and the fly more active in this its final existence. It is then known as the gray drake. Trout that feed in streams where the green drakes are plentiful are thought to be finer than all others, being firm in flesh and brilliant in color; but "when the green drakes are up," that is, upon the water, it is almost impossible to get the attention of the fish. It is claimed that the natural fly is the only attraction, and many are the successes related of fishing with the same when imitations had failed, nevertheless, imitations are made and used.

Those who practice fly-fishing frequently find occasions when the Green Drake seems the only fly of service. Experiments have been made endeavoring to transplant the natural flies from one stream to another, and it has been found that it can be accomplished. This may become quite a feature in the fish culture of the future. These flies are sometimes spoken of as May flies. Since writing of the green drake there has been published in the columns of "Shooting and Fishing" a very interesting paper on the May fly, its value as fish food, and the possibility of transplanting it to waters hitherto unfrequented by it. Mr. A. N. Cheney, the editor of the fishing department of this journal, is the writer of the article, and we have obtained from him permission to reprint his most able contribution to the history of the green drake, or, as it is called by some anglers, the May fly, hoping that further experiments may be made in the propagation of this desirable insect, for thereby is undoubtedly a means greatly to increase pleasure and profit in fly-fishing.

The article by Mr. A. N. Cheney on the May Fly is in the book.

This Lens only shows a fraction of the contents of this book. I have featured 12 full plates, and partial view of a few more. The book has 32 color plates. Each fly is numbered and described in the text. The book has 628 pages including 6 engravings of natural insects and 8 reproductions of photographs.

Check it out on ABE Rare Books

You can get a hard cover copy of this book on ABE Rare Books for $1000.00 + Shipping

Click the link below to take a look.

One of the most significant landmarks in American fly tying literature.

The American Fly Fisher wrote:

The legacy of Mary Orvis Marbury, through her book and her leadership in Orvis's commercial fly-tying operation, is the standardization of American fly patterns. Her book Favorite Flies and Their Histories, remains one of the most significant landmarks in American fly tying literature.

Salmon Flies Plate B

Salmon Flies Plate C

The Notion - From Salmon Flies Plate C above

No. 24. The Notion was first made and named by John Shields, the veteran fly-maker of Brookline, Mass. It was intended for land-locked salmon, but we hear of it as also successful for salmon, trout, and black bass. Dressed on a large hook it is very beautiful, the gilt and golden brown harmonizing perfectly ; it can also be adapted to a small hook. It is a fly that many anglers "take a notion to," and value for the good it does as well as for its beauty.

Salmon Flies Plate D

In Royal Coachman-The Lore and Legends of Fly Fishing, Paul Schullery wrote:

Mary Orvis Marbury produced one of American fishing literature's milestone volumes, Favorite Flies and Their Histories (1892), which not only served generations as the bible of fly patterns but further strengthened the company's reputation for expertise and reliability

Lake Flies

Hackles Plate

The bible of fly patterns

Bass Flies

The Cracker

No. 238. The Cracker is a fly with a record, and evolved by most careful study and experiment. It is intended for the coast and river fishes of Florida, and is named after the natives of that State, the "pore whites." Dr. George Trowbridge, of New York city, its designer, gives, in his letter, a full and most interesting account of the origin of this fly. Knowing, as we do, the skill and investigating spirit of Dr. Trowbridge, we feel that the fly with which he has made such surprising records is a valuable addition to an angler's assortment.

more Bass Flies

and even more Bass Flies

The Royal Coachman

No. 40. The Royal Coachman was first made in 1878 by John Haily, a professional fly dresser living in New York city. In writing of other matters, he inclosed a sample of this fly for us to see, saying: "A gentleman wanted me to tie some Coachmen for him to take up into the north woods, and to make them extra strong, so I have tied them with a little band of silk in the middle, to prevent the peacock bodies from fraying out. I have also added a tail of the barred feathers of the wood-duck, and I think it makes a very handsome fly."

A few evenings later, a circle of us were together "disputing the fly question," one of the party claiming that numbers were "quite as suitable to designate the flies as so many nonsensical names." The others did not agree with him, but he said: "What can you do." Here is a fly intended to be a Coachman, yet it is not the true Coachman; it is quite unlike it, and what can you call it?

Mr. L. C. Orvis, brother of Mr. Charles Orvis, who was present, said: "Oh, that is easy enough; call it the Royal Coachman, it is so finely dressed!" And this name in time came to be known and used by all who are familiar with the fly.

Also Available on Amazon

Favorite Flies And Their Histories (1892)
Favorite Flies And Their Histories (1892)

It offers descriptions and reproductions of 300 flies, broken down by geographic area and fishing conditions. Though more than a century has passed, these patterns remain effective for catching trout.


Trout Flies

Trout Flies

Trout Flies

Trout Flies

Trout Flies

Trout Flies

Trout Flies

You Can Be Browsing Through This Book in a few minutes!

The link to Download your Bonus Book "Fishing With The Fly" will be emailed to you within 24 hours.

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