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The Bag Fly Revisited

The Original Bag Fly - Developed by George Heller around 1940
The fly pictured was tied by the late Bill Austin who passed away at the age of 104.

HOOK:  Partridge Limerick
SIZE:  8 to 4
SILK:  White or your choice
TAIL:  Nil
RIBBING:  Silver Twist, four turns
BODY:  A hank of hessian fibres wound around hook shank
WING:  Balance of hessian fibres tied back along body and held in place with ribbing                    
WING LENGTH:  No longer than length of hook shank past the bend.
HACKLE:  Optional; Two or three turns of long badger hen hackle wound on at the head and tied to lean back over body.
NOTE:  It seems that the badger hackle was optional.  Another option was the use of a barred rock hackle replacing the badger.


This pattern shown above was a simple variation of the original. Tied by the late Bill Austin.
BAG FLY Variation No. 1 Designed by George Heller
HOOK:  As original
SIZE: As original
SILK: Black
TAIL: Natural hessian about the same length as hook shank
UNDERBODY: Optional wide silver tinsel tied in under shank at the bend of hook and brought forward over the underside of the hessian body when completed and tied off under the head of the fly
BODY: Hessian wound to form body and teased out by rubbing with sandpaper
HACKLE: Two or three turns of long badger hen hackle tied to lie back over body
BAG FLY Variation No. 2 - As tied by Jim Cree
HOOK:  As above
SIZE:  As above
SILK:  Black
TAIL:  A bunch of black squirrel tail fibres
BODY:  Gold lurex or tinsel
WING:  Tied streamer fashion, two strands of hessian fibres taken from a hessian bag and teased out to form wings. 
CREST:  Bright red hackle fibres
THROAT HACKLE:  Optional black hackle.
NOTE:  I asked Jim if he could remember the pattern as shown to him all those years ago.  Unfortunately he was unsure but did state that it could either have a silver or gold body. 

BAG FLY Variation No. 3 - As adapted by Mick Hall
HOOK:  As above
SIZE:  As above
SILK:  Black
TAIL:  Black hen hackle fibres
BODY:  Gold tinsel or lurex
RIBBING:  Heavy copper wire six or eight turns to protect gold tinsel
WING:  Plumbers jute fibres (hessian)
CREST:  Hot orange cock hackle fibres
THROAT HACKLE:  Black hen hackle fibres
NOTE:  In recent years I have been adding a gold bead to the head of this fly to improve its action and it has worked very well.      

The key to successfully fishing the Bag Fly is the type of water you fish it in.  Look for medium flowing water just below the rapids as it enters a pool - the type of water that’s wavy, not broken.  Keep your rod tip low to the water and a straight line.  Expect a strike as the line swings back across the current.  Keep your fly submerged and avoid drag.  If this happens, take a pace or two downstream - this will allow the fly to sink again.  Do not mend your line unless absolutely necessary as this creates slack line and you will miss any gentle takes.

Mick updates the story

In the early days of Freshwater Fishing Magazine this column was originally called “Flies for all Seasons” which was a little restrictive in its meaning.  The title only ran for three issues, being issues 4, 5 and 6 and with the strong acceptance of the magazine by the fishing public, we decided to rename the column.  After some consideration I came up with the name ‘Fly Talk’, a name which we felt covered all aspects of flies and fly tying.
It was in issue five that I first wrote of the Bag Fly and the story as I knew it then but a  meeting with an elderly resident of Eildon has filled in many of the missing links to the origin of this famous fly.
The original article was not long and I have repeated it here with a few minor adjustments and it is as follows.

THE BAG FLY (As written in Issue 5 Freshwater Fishing magazine)
Thinking back, it must be nearly twenty years or more when the late Lindsay Haslem and I were fishing the Goulburn River near Alexandra in central eastern Victoria.  The day was fine, the river low and the fishing was lousy - well, until we met this elderly angler bait casting his way up the river using light line and a minnow and sporting a couple of nice fish in his bag.
Talking together, as all fishermen do, this old guy swore by these preserved minnows that had recently come on to the market. 
“Those flies of yours don’t work here, you should get some of these to use on your fly gear” he said, as he walked on his way.
Sometime after he left I found a packet of preserved minnow near where we met, he must have dropped them while we were talking.  Standing there looking at this packet of very dead dull-eyed creatures in the palm of my hand I thought, “Why not?”
Looking in my fly box for a hook large enough to do the job, I selected an old battered Muddler Minnow, tied on a size 6 Limerick hook and proceeded to strip all the deer hair off as well as the wings.  This left just a small stubble of deer hair, part of the tail and the gold lurex body.  “That will do” I thought as I threaded the hook/fly through the minnow, a half hitch of the leader over the bait to help secure the lot.  I roll cast it over the river.  Well, the bait went one way and the fly/hook another.  “Stupid idea anyway” I muttered, placing the rod over my shoulder and slowly wading back to shore dragging the line behind me.
Well, you guessed it; a fish took the remnants of my Muddler.  Lindsay called out - “You got one mate!.  “Wait until you see what I caught it on”, was my reply. 
A quiet morning turned into a fruitful afternoon.  I can’t remember just how many fish were taken that afternoon but it was enough for us to tie replicas of the stripped down Muddlers for many years.
The saga continues…
Five, six or maybe even seven years later, Jim Cree, a member of Yarra Valley Flyfishers, was talking about and catching fish on “The Bag Fly”.  The story he tells is of meeting some old guy on the Goulburn River who used this fly in the Dome Hole below the old wall of Lake Eildon.  They used to tie strands of hessian fibres taken from an old sack along the shank of a hook and, if my memory is correct, that’s all.
The Dome Hole and the old wall of Lake Eildon is now submerged behind the existing wall but in its heyday it was a mecca for trout fishermen of that era.  Torrents of water would flow over the old spillway cascading into a large pool below; this was called the Dome Hole.  Schools of smelt would be washed over the wall to the waiting trout below.
From the stories I’ve heard and read, these trout were huge.  McCausland’s book “Fly Fishing in Australia and New Zealand” shows old photos of what it was like.  This book was printed in 1949.  If you can borrow or beg a copy, it makes for very interesting reading.
Many of our streamer patterns originated from the old timers fishing this water, the Bag Fly was just one of many.  Jim Cree’s version had a gold lurex body and on seeing the fly, it looked very similar to the stripped down Muddler we had been using over the prior years.

Last March my wife and I sold our home in Chirnside Park just out of Melbourne and shifted, lock, stock and barrel to Eildon in north central Victoria.  As you would expect, when you settle in a new area you slowly start to meet the people living there.   One such person who it was a pleasure to meet is an elderly gentleman name Bill Austin.   Bill is a long time resident of Eildon and even though he is in his 96th year, he still fishes with a fly.  As a matter of fact, he still tows his small caravan over the hills each year with his wife Mavis to fish the Mitta Mitta River.
Bill’s stories of old Eildon are many and all being well, they will be the basis for other articles.    At one time he and his wife owned an accommodation house on the banks of the Goulburn River near the old wall of Lake Eildon. 
Within easy walking distance of the lodge was the Dome Hole, which is historically one of the most famous Victorian fishing venues.
Famous anglers of old such Reg Lyne, Theo Brunn, Vic McCausland, J M Gillies, Lord Stonehaven, Bert Webb, George Heller and many others frequently fished these waters and most stayed with Bill and Mavis Austin in their lodge.  They fished, designed their flies and left only a small portion of their story.
Today all but just a small number of anglers remain who fished old Eildon; I only hope that somewhere, somehow they leave their memories for all to share.
During my discussions with Bill I asked if he knew of the Bag Fly, “Oh yes”, he said, “I think I have one”, as he poked through his fly box.   As I held the original in my hand, I had to ask the obvious question, did he know who first designed it.   Bill was unsure but thought that somewhere in the back of his mind the late Reg Lyne had something to do with it.  
Reg Lyne was a renowned Victorian fly angler and apart from many of his achievements, he also developed many of our old fly patterns.  Reg was a regular visitor to Eildon and would have had ample experience being a professional fly tier to develop such a pattern as the Bag Fly (since first publishing this article I have discovered that it was in fact George Heller, a close friend of Reg Lyne, that originally designed the Bag Fly).
The original pattern is an excellent representation of the smelt still found in many of our lakes.  However even back in the early days there were a number of variations of the Bag Fly; one had a silver body and as stated above, Jim Cree tells of a version with a gold body. 
The most popular style of hook used for the construction of this style of fly was a very old model known as a limerick. The limerick style of hook was made by a number of manufacturers including Partridge and Mustad. 

The Bag Fly Patterns