• Blasts From the Past: Adding a Modern Touch to Classic Fly Patterns
  • Post author
    John Satkowski
  • fly fishingfly tying

Blasts From the Past: Adding a Modern Touch to Classic Fly Patterns

If you have a '57 Chevy in your garage, you might update some parts and do some body work, but you'll try to keep as many original parts as possible.

The flies we regard as true classics have achieved that status for a reason.

While fishing the Ausable River in my home state of Michigan, my eyes were opened to why classic fly patterns are still catching fish many years after their creation.

I was running short on dry flies as the sulphurs were hatching, so I dug in my brookie box and saw a glint of yellow and silver. As soon as I tied on that size eight Mickey Finn, my numbers and quality of fish instantly improved.

By saving the features that make these classic flies produce and adding a modern touch with new and innovative materials, you can take them to the next level.

The Mickey Finn.

The Mickey Finn was tied in the 1930’s by Quebec fly tyer Charles Langevin. The fly was supposed to be as dangerous as a Mickey Finn, which is slang for a drugged drink.

The signature look of the Finn is the bucktail wing with red and yellow being the predominant colors.

The modern touch.

Substitute marabou for the bucktail because it breathes much better and if you keep it short it has less of a chance of wrapping around the hook.

Add a tail of marabou to pulse and breathe in the water as well as to match the wing.

Tinsel is a finicky material and can tarnish and have bumps if not tied correctly. Instead of tinsel, add a bit of flash by dubbing a thin body with silver holographic ice dub.

Complete the fly by adding a collar of mallard flank and a Fish-Skull Fish-Mask to keep it buoyant with a little bulk upfront.

Modern Mickey Finn fly tying recipe:

Head: Fish-Skull Fish-Mask, size to match hook.

Hook: Mustad S71SZ-34007 sz. 8-2.

Thread: Yellow Unithread 8/0.

Tail: Yellow Marabou.

Wing: Yellow with a small amount of red marabou on the sides.

Hackle: Red mallard flank.

Body: Holographic silver ice dub.

Flash: Yellow krystal flash.

The Black Ghost.

The Black Ghost was tied by Herbert Welch in the 1920’s in Maine for trout and salmon.

The fly employs a white feather wing with a black floss body.

The modern touch.

Anybody who has tried a feather wing knows how easily the feathers can slip out of place or roll. Counter this by adding a barred rabbit strip for some extra mottling and ribbing it in place with some silver wire.

Add Marabou for some extra movement and some ice dub for a little extra sparkle.

In order to finish the head, enhance the baitfish look, and help activate the rabbit strip, add a dark gray Fish-Skull Baitfish Head.

The fly is easily recognizable as a Black Ghost, but the new hardware takes it to the next level.

Modern Black Ghost fly tying recipe:

Fish Skull: Fish-Skull Baitfish Head, dark gray, size to match hook.

Hook: Tiemco TMC9394.

Thread: Black Unithread 6/0.

Tail: Yellow marabou.

Body: Black UV ice dub.

Throat: Yellow marabou.

Wing: White barred zonker strip.

Collar:  White Senyo lazer yarn.

Flash: Silver holographic flashabou.

Markings: Black marker.

Rib: Silver metallic Ultra Wire, size small-medium.

The Muddler.

Most every fly angler knows the fly that’s simply called The Muddler.

Originally tied by Don Gapen to imitate a slimy sculpin, The Muddler is one of the top streamer flies, and a lot of modern streamers use The Muddler’s architecture as a chassis to build bigger, articulated flies.

The modern touch.

The Muddler has had several updates through the years already.

A marabou wing has been added instead of the fragile turkey slip wing, and body braid has taken over for the tinsel. This added more movement and made the fly quicker and easier to tie.

Since the fly was originally tied to imitate a sculpin, I decided to push the sculpin look even further by adding barred marabou and ice dub for the body, and articulating the fly while keeping the deer hair element as collars on the front and back hook.

The back hook has deer body hair being inserted into a dubbing loop to construct the collar. Try this when tying your next articulated streamer – it helps balance the action of the fly.

A Sculpin Helmet was added for the profile of a sculpin head, and the deer hair collar in the front accentuates that. Rubber legs were added so the fly appears alive with the rubber legs moving at every twitch of the rod tip.

Thanks in part to the weighted keel on the Sculpin Helmet, the fly consistlently swims hook up to avoid snags.

The result is a trophy-trout streamer with a classic feel.

John's Rustbucket Sculpin fly tying recipe:

Rear Hook.

Hook: Gamakatsu B 10S sz. 6-1/0.

Thread: Dark brown Unithread 6/0.

Tail: Rust-color barred marabou

Body: Copper ice dub

Hackle: Rust-color marabou palmered

Collar: Rust-color deer hair (spun in dubbing loop).

Rubber Legs: Pepper silicon strips, 2 per side.

Articulation Connection: Beadalon 7 strand (.015 or .018) wire with 3 red Czech beads.

Front Hook.

Hook: Gamakatsu B 10S size 6-1/0.

Thread: Dark brown Unithread 6/0.

Tail: Rust-color barred marabou.

Body: Copper ice dub.

Hackle: Rust-color marabou palmered.

Collar: Rust-color deer hair (spun in dubbing loop).

Rubber Legs: Pepper silicon strips, 2 per side.

Head: Fish-Skull Sculpin Helmet, brown, size to match hooks.

The Zonker Trout Fin.

When I look through the pages of my fly reference books, I love admiring the traditional slip wing wet flies. They are not only an exercise in tying skill, but in beauty as well.

The origin of the trout fin fly seems a little hazy, but the idea of the fly comes from the famous angling book Favorite Flies and Their Histories in 1892 by Mary Orvis Marbury. The idea was that you would cut a fin off a brook trout, impale it on a hook, and swing the fly how you would fish a traditional wet fly.

This worked so well that people started to figure out fly tying methods to emulate this three-color look of a fin.

The apparently obvious choice was to take the slips of various feathers, usually duck at that time, and marry the slips making a solid wet wing.

For the sake of conservation, I'm glad that anglers stopped cutting the fins off of brook trout, but the main point is using bold colors to emulate a forage fish.

The modern touch.

I wanted to tie a fly I could work like a streamer, but could also swing in the current if needed.

I substituted saddle hackle fibers for the fragile and time-consuming wing slips and added a bit of flash and a rabbit strip to cause the fly to undulate in the current in order to draw strikes.

I added some nice ice dub in a dubbing loop for the head instead of the traditional black lacquered finish for durability and bulk.

The fly has an overall look of a baby brook trout, which is a tasty treat for Mr. Big Brown Trout.

John's Zonker Trout Fin fly tying recipe:

Weight: Nymph-Head FlyColor brass bead, caddis green, size to match conditions.

Hook: Tiemco 300 sz. 8-2.

Thread: White and olive Unithread 6/0.

Tail: Orange over black over white hackle barbs, stripped from stem.

Back Fin: Orange over black over white hackle barbs, stripped from stem.

Front Fin: Orange over black over white hackle barbs, stripped from stem.

Body: Pearl UV ice dub.

Head: Olive brown ice dub (in a dubbing loop).

Wing: Barred oliver zonker strip.

Flash: Holographic orange flashabou.

Rib: Green metallic Ultra Wire, size small-medium.

The Wiggle Akroyd.

This final fly is truly a legend.

The Akroyd is one of those flies classified as a Dee-style fly. Whenever I look at these flies, I see tradition and beauty.

A Dee style fly is characterized by a split wing drooping along the hook shank. The wings are generally made of turkey and are tied on a blind or salmon/steelhead upturned-eye hook.

The long hackle and wings are generally what drives the fly's action in the water.

The modern touch.

When I sat down at the vise I got to thinking, "what if this fly had more wiggle than a wiener dog begging for a treat?"

To get the extra movement, I sectioned the body with two 20 mm Articulated Shanks and kept the body materials essentially the same.

Try breathing a bit more life into your favorite patterns by adding a shank or two!

John's Wiggle Akroyd fly tying recipe:

Hook: Gamakatsu WWG sz. 6-2.

Thread: Black and yellow Unithread 8/0.

Rear Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank 20 mm.

Front Shank: Fish-Skull Articulated Shank 20 mm.

Tail: Golden Pheasant Tippets.

Veiling: Golden Pheasant crest.

Rear Body: Yellow Angora goat dub.

Rear Hackle: Yellow saddle hackle.

Rear Wing: Cinnamon turkey slip.

Rear Rib: Silver twist tinsel.

Front Hackle #1: Black saddle hackle.

Front Hackle #2: Teal flank.

Front Wing: White turkey slip.

Front Rib: Flat silver tinsel (small).

Front Body: Black Angora goat dub.

Front and Rear Cheeks: Jungle Cock (drooping).

Take it to your tying table.

The next time you sit at your vise, don’t be hesitant to do a little research on patterns from the past and add your own twist to them to gain some movement and fish-catching ability.

You'll probably be amazed at how many modern patterns have traditional influences.

Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two forward.

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About John Satkowski:

John Satkowski resides in Toledo, Ohio, where he fishes for all fish that swim in the rivers and lakes of southeastern Michigan and northwest Ohio. An artist, fly tying demonstrator, and fly tying instructor, John shares his love of fly tying and fishing as often as he can. For the last fifteen years, he has focused on unlocking the secrets of smallmouth bass, carp, trout, and northern pike on the fly, chasing after them in the rivers and lakes of the Wolverine state and the glory waters of Montana. John is also an accomplished realistic tyer and always tries to add a little realistic flair to his patterns. John’s patterns often use creative fly materials and unconventional tying styles. Check out his bio and commercial fly patterns at Rainy's Flies. You can get a hold of John by visiting the River Raisin Fly Company page on Facebook or through email at RiverRaisinFlyCompany13@gmail.com.

  • Post author
    John Satkowski
  • fly fishingfly tying

Comments on this post (10)

  • Jan 20, 2023

    I would like to subscribe.

    — Allan Cornman

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I’d like to subscribe. Thanks.

    — Bill K.

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Astonishing fly patterns

    — Fernand Paquette

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I love it……..those traditions are always fun…….we kind of do the same thing with muddlers tied the traditional way too untit one of our group members tied a 4/0 muddler on thinking no one would notice lol

    — John Satkowski

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Your patterns are interesting, but I prefer the old, classic patterns. The Mickey Finn is an old, traditional streamer pattern. The story I tell of the Mickey Finn relates to the famous “Chuck-and-Chance It” fishing club in the heart of the Catskills. It was opening day of trout season in 1950, and as tradition had it, the president of the club was to fish the club house pool and catch the first fish of the season before any of the other club members could fish. He was to catch the first fish on a Mickey Finn which was in the club’s by-laws. The president looked in his fly boxes and could not find a Mickey Finn anywhere and none of the other members had one either, so instead of using a Mickey Finn he tied on a stone fly nymph and proceeded to catch the first fish of the season, a nice 16" brookie. After this incident, the board members agreed to amend the by-laws to include this statement: “He who is without Finn, let him cast the first stone.”

    — John Robbins

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Thanks everyone……-P.A. I always have the tendency to tie articulated flies rather than singles but I do keep quite a few in my box, usually bigger bulkier patterns that push a lot of water just to have a balance when the fish want slightly smaller patterns…….

    — John Satkowski

  • Dec 03, 2020

    please send me asmall order i can tie all those types of flies tha i have sent. thanks

    — patrick nyongesa

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Good post

    — William O'Dell

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Yes I’d like to subscribe

    — Richard allen rupp

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Some really cool ideas, just what I needed as my selection of small/single-hooked streamers feels somewhat limited.

    — P.A.

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