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A fly with a long history

Don MacLean
Don MacLean

Outdoor World by Don MacLean

I have a friend who collects stamps and I save any stamps I receive for him. I don’t receive that much mail but once a year I end up having an envelope full of them which I then give him.

I never became interested in collecting stamps as a hobby but there are a few stamps I have picked up over the years which I like very much. They are the series of fly stamps Canada Post produced in two series, one in 1998 and the second in 2005. When I dropped off the stamps to my friend it reminded me of my stamps so I had another look at them when I got home.

I knew two of the fly tiers whose flies were featured on the stamps, Rob Solo from Corner Brook and the late Eric Baylis from Halifax. The fly Rob tied for the stamps was the PEI fly, a trout pattern, which refers to Prince Edward Island while Eric tied a Cosseboom salmon fly.

The other flies featured in the series of stamps included the Jock Scott, Alevin, Coquihlla Orange, Dark Montreal, Coho Blue, Steelhead Bee, Lady Amherst and Mickey Finn. Each collection of stamps included an information booklet and, as I reread the information, it reminded me how interesting the history of these fly patterns are, especially the Mickey Finn.

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.

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 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.

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

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