Discovering the Marbury Lake Flies

Published Dec 29th 2012

If today's tyer wants to tie the Mary Orvis Marbury Lake flies, they would be wise to think 'old school', and transport themselves back to a time when the hooks had blind eyes, the materials were natural, and the flies were colorful


Flies and photography by the author

Charles Orvis opened his tackle shop in Manchester, Vermont in 1856, and the business did thrive. The nearby Green Mountains were becoming a resort area, and Orvis developed a clientele for flies and tackle from customers both near and far. By 1876, Charles was having difficulties obtaining materials, and supplying all the flies his customers were ordering. Of his three sons and one daughter, only his daughter Mary showed interest in tying flies. An expert 'fly dresser' from New York was brought in to sharpen Mary's skills. That same year, Mary Orvis Marbury took over the fly tying business for her father, employing from five to seven women, working in the upstairs of the Union Street factory that Charles had occupied since 1870.

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As the Orvis tying business developed and expanded, there were eventually 434 fly patterns offered. The Orvis flies were divided into roughly four categories: Trout, Bass, Lake, and Salmon. Some patterns did double duty for more than one species of fish, depending on the size and style the fly was tied. The Trout flies were the smallest but most numerous of the patterns, being gut snelled. The Bass flies were large and gaudy by comparison, tied with gut snells or twisted gut eyes. The Salmon flies were based mostly upon their British cousins, with a few American and Canadian Salmon patterns added.

There were 46 Lake fly patterns. In today's terms, the Lake flies would be considered 'attractor' or 'all around' flies. They were tied generally smaller than the Bass and Salmon flies, but for the most part larger than the Trout patterns. The Lake flies could be fished for several species, from Trout to Bass. Many of the Lake patterns such as the Fiery Brown are not complicated, consisting of a tail and wing of Goose or Turkey (natural and dyed), a body of chenille, fur, or Peacock herl, maybe a tinsel rib, and a collar hackle. Some of the Lake patterns are more complex, being closer to the Salmon flies with silk bodies, and wings with multiple elements, and including more exotic feathers. Besides strip wings of Goose and Turkey, whole feather wings of waterfowl (Wood duck, Teal, and Mallard), Golden Pheasant tippets, Pheasant body feathers (hen and cock), and several other types of body feathers from other birds were paired up as 'spoon' wings on the Lake flies. Compared to modern flies, the wings were more upright, the bodies sometimes strongly tapered, and the hackles full and sweeping back. Many of the heads were built of red wool, black Ostrich herl, or Peacock herl.

If today's tyer wants to tie the Marbury Lake flies, they would be wise to think 'old school', and transport themselves back to a time when the hooks had blind eyes, the materials were natural, and the flies were colorful and uniquely adapted to the American fly fishing experience by Mary Orvis Marbury and her crew of women tyers. Study the color plates and interesting information in Mary's book 'Favorite Flies and their Histories' and you will gain an appreciation for the character and significance of these American classic flies.



(1) If tying on a blind eye hook, attach the twisted gut eye or snell (a straight leader of gut with a loop on the end) with thread wraps, and wind thread down to a spot roughly even with the point of the hook. Note: a reasonable 'modern' hook for these flies is the Mustad 3366. For the Lake flies, the sizes would range from about 4 to 2/0.

(2) Tie in a piece of small oval tinsel, and wrap five turns past the point (wrapping over the tinsel). Return the thread to the point of the hook, then wind five turns of tinsel forward. Tie off the tinsel. Prepare some small strips for the tail (both right and left) and marry the fibers. Place the two tail strips at the tie in spot. Pinch with thumb and forefinger, throw a soft loop over the strips and pull tight. Throw one more tight wrap over the strips directly in front of the first, then make sure the tail is sitting vertically as you want it. Add a couple more tight wraps. Trim the tail butts, or begin the underbody by winding the thread tightly over the butts.

(3) Build up an underbody that is slightly tapered (as shown) with thread wraps. At the tail, attach a piece of slightly larger oval tinsel.

(4) By dubbing loop or twisting the fur onto the thread, build the brown fur body.

(5) If using spiky fur such as Seal, trim the fur body to shape. Wind five even turns of tinsel, leaving a small space at the shoulder.

(6) Select a pair of body feathers from a Hen Pheasant. Prepare them by flattening the stems with flat pliers where the tie in wraps will be, and bending the stems on an angle as shown. Tie in the wings. If they don't sit vertically, use the pliers to twist the stems. Keep adjusting until the wings sit right. Add a drop of cement at the tie in spot.

(7) Prepare a schlappen or saddle feather by folding the fibers. Hold the feather by the tip with a hackle pliers (good side up), and use the fingers of the opposite hand to stroke the fibers of both sides down, into a 'V'. Trim the tip, then tie firmly to the hook exactly where the wing is.

(8) Make several turns of hackle, making sure the fibers sweep back. Tie off the hackle, and then switch to a red thread.

(9) Make a dubbing mixture by cutting small pieces of red wool yarn, and pulling the strands apart until it is a uniform dubbing. Twist the red dubbing thinly onto the thread and make a shapely head. Make a few more wraps of red thread, then whip finish.



Tag: oval silver tinsel
Tail: Golden Pheasant crest, yellow, red, green goose shoulder, Wood Duck
Butt: black chenille
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Body: claret silk floss
Hackle: yellow, palmered
Wing: Wood Duck
Shoulder: Golden Pheasant tippet; green, red, yellow goose shoulder, Golden Pheasant crest over
Throat: scarlet hackle
Head: Peacock herl

Claret MontrealClaret Montreal

Tag: oval gold tinsel
Tail: red Goose
Body: claret floss
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: mottled Turkey
Hackle: claret


Tag: oval silver tinsel
Tail: married strands of grey, Mallard, and red dyed Goose or Turkey
Body: brown fur (Seal used here)
Ribs: oval silver tinsel
Wing: Hen Pheasant body feathers (paired)
Hackle: brown Head: red wool

Fiery BrownFiery Brown

Tag: oval gold tinsel
Tail: red dyed goose
Body: fiery brown fur
Wing: mottled Turkey
Hackle: brown schlappen
Head: red wool


Tag: oval silver tinsel
Tail: red dyed Goose or Turkey
Butt: black Ostrich herl
Body: orange Seal or similar fur
Ribs: oval silver tinsel
Hackle: orange
Wing: Jungle cock body feathers


Tag: flat gold tinsel and light olive floss
Tail: Wood Duck and yellow goose
Body: grey fur
Wing: Jungle Cock, red and yellow dyed Turkey
Hackle: Claret schlappen
Head: black Ostrich herl

Hill FlyHill Fly

Tag: oval silver tinsel and yellow floss
Tail: Golden Pheasant crest
Body: Black floss
Ribs: oval silver tinsel
Wing: Golden Pheasant tippets, strips of Mallard and Teal, strips of brown Turkey, GP crest (at the sides)
Hackle: black
Head: black Ostrich herl

King of the WoodsKing of the Woods

Tag: gold tinsel
Tail: red and yellow Goose
Body: yellow floss
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: grey and brown Mallard, red Goose
Hackle: green
Head: red wool


Tag: silver tinsel
Tail: Golden Pheasant tippet
Body: red silk floss
Rib: oval gold tinsel
Wing: Teal
Hackle: brown
Head: red wool


Tail: red Goose and barred Wood Duck
Body: Peacock herl
Wing: spotted Loon feathers (Black Francolin subbed here)
Hackle: brown
Head: black herl

Lord BaltimoreLord Baltimore

Tag: oval gold tinsel
Tail: black dyed Goose or Turkey
Body: orange floss
Ribs: black silk floss
Wing: black dyed Goose or Turkey
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Hackle: black


Tag: oval gold tinsel and yellow silk floss
Tail: yellow, red, and brown fibers
Butt: red silk floss
Rib: black silk floss
Body: yellow silk floss
Wing: mottled brown hen and red dyed Goose
Hackle: yellow
Head: black Ostrich herl

New LakeNew Lake

Tag: flat silver tinsel
Tail: red Goose and Mallard
Body: flat silver tinsel
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Hackle: red palmered
Wing: Golden Pheasant tail
Hackle: red
Head: red wool

Parmachene BeauParmachene Beau

Tag: silver tinsel
Tail: red and white
Butt: black herl
Body: yellow floss
Rib: oval silver tinsel
Wing: white and Jungle Cock
Hackle: red and white
Head: black Ostrich herl

Parmachene BelleParmachene Belle

Tag: oval silver tinsel
Tail: red and white
Butt: Peacock herl
Body: yellow floss
Rib: flat silver tinsel
Hackle: yellow palmered
Wing: red and white
Hackle collar: red
Head: red


Tag: silver tinsel
Tail: Golden Pheasant tippet
Butt: red chenille
Body: yellow floss with black hackle palmered front half of body
Wing: grey Mallard
Hackle collar: black
Head: Red

Yellow BetsyYellow Betsy

Tail: Wood Duck
Body: orange chenille
Wing: Wood Duck breast
Hackle: brown


User comments
From: Jerry Bode · jerrybode·at·  Link
Submitted March 26th 2014

Great website. Love your flies. Can't wait to try tying some. May I ask where do you purchase the twisted gut for tying; and what size is it?
Thank you in advance.....Jerry Bode

From: Niels Have · nielshaveholding·at·  Link
Submitted January 3rd 2013

very nice flies!!

Niels Have

From: Joseph Russell · joe0200·at·  Link
Submitted January 1st 2013

Great article and these flies are so amazing i have never tried tying these kind of flies i have been wanting to . your post has inspires me to do more .
Thank You Joseph Russell

From: Kelly - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted December 30th 2012

Mike, these flies and article were so incredible. The tying here is just unimaginable. You just knocked this one so far out of the park, they will never find that ball. I have always wanted to tie the Marbury flies, but so far I have procrastinated. You have the bar raised so high here, I am hesitant to even start. Bravo Zulu here Mike.

From: WERBROUCK GEERT · flyingantss·at·  Link
Submitted December 29th 2012

Dear MIKE,

They gifted this article in the 'right' HANDS !!!. Marvellous and I am sure correct information was brought over by YOU ! and 'each' of the MARY ORIVIS MARBURY flies who are presented here !!! are a 'lust' for my EYES !...BRAVO to You and the editor of 'THE GLOBAL FLYFISHER'

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