This fly has a long history

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I am a real packrat when it comes to collecting old outdoor gear, as well as books and other items associated with sport fishing and hunting. A few months ago I was at an outdoor show with numerous vendors selling old and new hunting and fishing equipment. One item that caught my eye was the collection of fly stamps Canada Post issued in 2005. I didn’t need to buy any because I bought several packages back when they were released. I was impressed with the price they were asking, $25, as I know I bought them for a couple of dollars when they came out.

The announcement last week from Canada Post about upcoming price increases for stamps reminded me of my stamps so I had another look at them when I got home. I know one of the fly tiers featured on the stamps, Rob Solo from Corner Brook. The fly Rob tied for the stamps was called the PEI fly which refers to Prince Edward Island. The three other flies featured include the Jock Scott, Alevin and Mickey Finn. The information provided on the stamp booklet about the Mickey Finn especially interested me.

I always knew that the Mickey Finn fly, which is a streamer tied with a silver body and red and yellow buck tail wing, had a long and illustrious history. It is an old pattern but continues to be a favourite among trout and salmon anglers to this day. Its popularity is probably due to the fact that it catches fish, even if it doesn’t represent anything in nature. In the stamp booklet it claims that the fly was first tied by a Quebec fly tier, Charles Langevin, in the 19th century. First known as the Langevin its name was later changed to the Assassin. I knew about the Assassin fly and how it was popularized by outdoor writer John Alden Knight. Knight is famous for his development of the Solunar Tables which outline the best times for hunting and fishing based on lunar cycles.

The effectiveness of the fly for catching trout prompted Greg Clark, well known Canadian writer whose column ran in the Star Weekly for years, to proclaim, after being on a fishing trip with Knight, that the fly was as effective as a Mickey Finn. Now, at that time the Mickey Finn was a famous drink, developed in New Orleans in the 1920s which was very potent because it contained narcotics of some sort. As the story goes famed actor Rudolph Valentino died from drinking too many Mickey Finns while at a hotel in New York and the term, slipping someone a mickey, comes from that event. Greg Clark’s renaming of the fly as the Mickey Finn stuck and Knight continued to popularize the fly through his writings in the 1930s and ’40s. Time hasn’t dimmed its effectiveness and it continues to be one of the most popular streamers for trout and salmon in North America.

I guess I’ll hang on to my stamps. The way postal rates are going up they will be as good as gold in a few years.

Merry Christmas.

-Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.

Organizations: Canada Post

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Corner Brook, Quebec New Orleans New York North America Pictou County

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